Urban planning

Planning chiefs reveal vision for more public space in heaving Hong Kong

Ideas include turning roads into public spaces, more pedestrian zones and creating performance areas under bypasses

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 December, 2016, 6:55pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 January, 2017, 11:41am

Planning officials say they are contemplating “out-of-the-box” solutions to provide more recreational space in built-up areas to meet higher standards set out in the city’s latest long-term development blueprint.

In an exclusive interview with the Post, town planners behind the 2030 Plus vision suggest converting a number of roads in Mong Kok into public use, creating performance areas under bypasses, setting up more pedestrian zones and exploring the use of underground spaces.

Roads took up 27 per cent of ground-level space in Mong Kok, one of the world’s most densely populated areas, while public space accounted for just 5 per cent, Steven Yik Ho-siu, of the Planning Department, said.

‘2030 Plus’ master plan provokes more questions than answers

“If we look at the characteristics of each district, we can find out where the potential is to release more public space,” he said. “In the case [of Mong Kok], if we turn 1 per cent of roads into recreational space, we can enlarge the space by 5 per cent.”

Released in October for a six-month public consultation, 2030 Plusproposes to increase the ratio of open space per person from the current two square metres to 2.5 square metres.

Yik, one of the drafters of the blueprint, said the idea was to create a more liveable and pedestrian-friendly city.

Although the blueprint does not give detailed examples for each district, Assistant Director of Planning Amy Cheung Yi-mei raised several examples, such as revitalising the space under the Kwun Tong Bypass in Kowloon East into a venue for performances and other public activities.

Busy parts of the city, such as Pak Sha Road in Causeway Bay, could be reserved for pedestrians during certain hours of the day, she said. The use of underground spaces in Tsim Sha Tsui West, Causeway Bay, Happy Valley, and Admiralty or Wan Chai could also be explored.

But while such ideas sound good on paper, the reality is that it took the government 16 years to approve the temporary pedestrianisation – for six hours on a Sunday – of a 200-metre stretch of Des Voeux Road Central.

Cheung admitted that there had been difficulties in finding more public spaces.

“People have competition for space among themselves,” she said. “Pedestrians need to compete against other activities.”

This was why innovative ways of pedestrianisation were needed to reduce this competition among different users of space.

Cheung said the department had been in constant touch with the Transport Department, which is studying ways to reduce the number of private cars and consulting the public about a proposed electronic road pricing system.

Making Hong Kong a walkable city, one step at a time

The 2030 Plus blueprint also projects a shortfall of 1,200 hectares of land for housing and economic development in the long run. It recommends developing two new towns on reclaimed land off the east coast of Lantau Island and in the northern New Territories – which together will provide 1,700 hectares – to meet the demand.

But the plans, especially the proposal to build a 1,000-hectare man-made island, have met with great opposition from the public, who want the government to make more efficient use of existing land resources first.

Cheung said the two new towns were not the only choices for the public. She said the paper had invited people to submit their own proposals in fulfilling long-term demand for land.

The government had already been working on some alternatives, Cheung said, such as developing brownfield land, abandoned agricultural land, exploring underground and cavernous spaces, and increasing the development plot ratio to allow more flats to be built in a given area.