Inside government’s plans to get Hong Kong walking with pedestrian-zoned town plazas

Officials plan to make city more pedestrian-friendly and less reliant on vehicles

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 9:44am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 11:43am

Pedestrians should be the winners in future with the government planning to build multi-function public plazas providing street-level shopping and leisure parks in new towns, the city’s chief planner has revealed.

In an exclusive interview with the Post, Director of Planning Ling Kar-kan said with growing public awareness of the need for a walkable environment, the government would give more priority to pedestrians than roads.

New pedestrian-friendly features will be specially designed for new town developments in the New Territories, including Hung Shui Kiu, Kwu Tung, Fanling North, and Tung Chung East.

“For every new town development, we plan to introduce the concept of a public plaza to serve pedestrians so that when they walk past the plaza every day they will have a colourful and enjoyable walking experience,” he said.

“For urban planning, the ideal is to make an environment not only ‘walkable’ but also ‘seatable’ and ‘stayable’,” the chief planner said.

The director admitted that there was room for improvement in planning for Tseung Kwan O and Tin Shui Wai new towns amid criticism that most activities were confined to malls.

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Ling’s planning vision for the new towns’ walking environment is understood to be part of the Hong Kong 2030 Plus study to be announced by the government on Thursday.

It focuses on options for overall spatial planning and land and infrastructure development for Hong Kong beyond 2030.

Spelling out his planning philosophy, Ling said due to its hilly geographical constraints, Hong Kong had adopted a high-density, polycentric and mixed-use development approach to cater to the various needs of Hongkongers in different districts.

“For new developments, the residence area and other major facilities will be located within a walking distance of 10 minutes, or a radius distance of 500 metres from MTR stations or bus terminals to provide convenient traffic connectivity and essential services for about 80 per cent of the population there,” he said.

The theory is that government planners should provide an interesting experience for pedestrians who are willing to walk for at least 10 minutes.

The public plaza, combining a park and shopping street for all forms of street-level activities such as performances and flea markets was aimed at providing seamless integration between passageways and the business district without any boundaries, Ling said.

“The plaza will provide five functions – unobstructed pedestrian thoroughfares, shopping streets, a park, an air ventilation path and a visual corridor due to unobstructed vision,” he explained.

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There will still be footbridges to connect people, but roads will have to make way for the pedestrian zone. Roads will be placed under the plaza as in Tamar Park in Admiralty.

“For these new towns, we will stipulate the provision of a public plaza with shopping frontage at street level to encourage people gradually and naturally to form a walking habit,” he said.

Public plazas were introduced over 1,000 years ago in European countries to serve as a centre for community life. Today’s metropolitan landscapes often incorporate the “plaza” as a design element or as a result of zoning regulations.

For old districts such as Mong Kok, Causeway Bay and Central, the government will close some side streets to create a pedestrian zone in a bid to reduce traffic, or provide escalators, lifts and other facilities to make walking easier.

Lawmaker Edward Yiu Chung-yim, who represents the planning sector, said apart from planning, the government should also ensure that management is in a position to make sure that the plaza serves the public properly.