Efforts to make Hong Kong a pedestrian-friendly city are most welcome

Plans for plazas in future new towns are a good first step, but the government also needs to improve facilities in existing districts

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 November, 2016, 12:52am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 November, 2016, 12:52am

The words “square” and “plaza” evoke images of immense public space brimming with life and activities. Such places are also a city’s heart and soul. In Hong Kong, the words have a rather different meanings, though. They are usually the names of glitzy skyscrapers and shopping malls rather than places for public enjoyment. This situation is worsened when the streets are invariably narrow and crowded with passengers queuing up for buses, or with unauthorised extended shop fronts or illegally parked bicycles. The city is hardly pedestrian-friendly.

The government’s idea of building more pedestrian-friendly public plazas in new towns is therefore worth considering. In an interview with the Post, Director of Planning Ling Kar-kan said awareness of the need for a more “walkable” environment has been growing. The plan, he said, was to build public plazas in all future new towns to enhance people’s walking experience.

Under the plan, residential areas and other major facilities would be located within a walking distance of 10 minutes, or a radius of 500 metres, from train stations or bus terminals. The principle is simple – those who are willing to walk for at least 10 minutes should be rewarded with interesting experiences. Belated as it is, the direction is a refreshing change that should be seriously put into practice.

Reinvigorate Hong Kong with more pedestrian-only zones

Equally important is the need for a facelift for old districts. Understandably, the design and space constraints in some areas have left government planners with little room to manoeuvre. Even though some streets have become pedestrian-only zones, they tend to draw crowds of performers, promoters and the like. A walk along the street is more pain than fun sometimes.

There are those who insist Hongkongers are least willing to ditch transportation in favour of walking.The hot and humid weather in summer also makes outdoor walking unpleasant. True as it may be, the preference for wheels to going on foot also owes much to city planning and infrastructure. The priority given to roads and vehicles means the needs of pedestrians always come as a second thought in development.

The newly released development blueprint beyond 2030 has provided insights for a more people-oriented approach towards planning. If future development projects are to be carried out with this new thinking, people’s commuting habits may also change. The government also needs to improve facilities in existing districts. Hopefully, it will not take long before Hong Kong can become a pedestrian-friendly city.