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Urban planning

Keep on walking: veteran Hong Kong architect urges government and business to dump car-oriented planning approach

Christopher Law says there is a need to make the city more liveable by encouraging small shops, traditional markets and shorter city blocks

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 September, 2016, 8:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 September, 2016, 10:25am

A veteran architect has called on the government and business to change their mentality and make Hong Kong a walkable city by discouraging the use of vehicles and preserving the city’s unique human features.

Christopher Law Kin-chung, founder and director of the Oval Partnership, made the call as he noted that the government had leaned towards a car-oriented approach to town planning over the past few decades, leading to wider roads and abundant parking space to accommodate a rising number of private cars instead of focusing on pedestrians.

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As a result, he said, traditional mom-and-pop stores, balconies for protection in hot or rainy weather, traditional markets and shorter blocks , which create an enjoyable walking environment, were gradually disappearing and made Hong Kong less walkable than before.

“A walkable city should cater to the needs of people to make the place a pleasure for walking, comfortable for living and create vibrant economic and social activities. That’s why we should switch back to a people-based approach to preserve these precious features,” he said.

Law believed the use of private cars could be reduced as the city provided excellent public transport. “I believe that where there is a will there is a way. Hong Kong has really good DNA for this people-based approach,” he said.

“The most important thing is a change in the mindset. The government should join hands with the business sector in creating a platform for stakeholders to cooperate to make Hong Kong a walkable and liveable city.”

The expert warned that placing vehicles before pedestrians would create a “vicious cycle” to feed on the public’s insatiable appetite for private cars at the expense of the public’s quality of life.

“It dawns on us that cars are indeed a monster with which you never feel satisfied,” Law warned. He will be a speaker at next month’s Walk21 Hong Kong Conference on walkability. It is being hosted by Civic Exchange.

“The wider the roads, the more people will be encouraged to drive cars. Then the roads will become wider. Many traditional street stores have disappeared to make way for parking space,” he added.

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Car-oriented planning, an approach adopted by many global planners, requires that cities devote signifiant space to roads and parking.

Law argued that a people-based planning approach which took care of residents’ social and entertainment needs through the preservation of cultural heritage and art activities, could create tremendous economic benefits and help resolve many social issues.

One example – London’s Saville Row, which preserves traditional tailor shops – has become a major tourist attraction.

He also cited Tseung Kwan O and Tin Shui Wai, also known as the city of sorrow for its high suicide rate, as two examples of poor planning as shopping and dining activities were confined to malls, outside of which people easily feel lonely and isolated.

Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, spokesman for the Coalition to Monitor Public Transport and Utilities, said the government could adopt public-private partnerships to develop new towns so it could designate part of the area for social activities and small creative shops.