Get creative with underground space

Hong Kong has long talked about building Japanese-style underground spaces; now it’s time for action should the public back various proposals

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 November, 2016, 1:04am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 November, 2016, 1:04am

Visitors to Japan are generally impressed by the country’s smart use of underground space. From pedestrian walkways to retail outlets, there exists a labyrinth of facilities beneath the surface of most Japanese cities, bringing more convenience to urban living as well as adding character.

Hong Kong also has something similar, thanks to our underground urban rail system and the proliferation of office towers and shopping centres in certain districts. But we are nowhere near Tokyo or Osaka in terms of subterranean development. It has remained an alien concept until recently, when there has been more discussion on how to make better use of the space beneath the ground.

The momentum is gathering as the government rolled out a public consultation on four development proposals, namely Tsim Sha Tsui West, Causeway Bay, Happy Valley and Admiralty-Wan Chai. For instance, three four-storey underground spaces can be built beneath Kowloon Park to link Nathan Road to the West Kowloon Cultural District and Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront. The idea, officials say, is to improve connectivity, enhance the living environment and create more space for community use.

Attractive as they seem, the proposals have pros and cons. The diversion of pedestrian traffic and relocation of facilities underground can help relieve overcrowded streets and improve air quality while freeing up more above-ground space for better use. But there will be prolonged disruption and inconvenience to traffic and businesses during the work.

Government floats below-ground proposals for Hong Kong’s built-up areas

This is not the first time the city has talked of making better use of underground space. As early as 2004, the Planning Department proposed a pedestrian-shopping underpass linking Sogo Department Store to what is Hysan Place today. Former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen went further in his policy address in 2009, mapping out a blueprint linking Victoria Park to Happy Valley with a Tokyo-style underground arcade. But the proposals led nowhere.

The discussion appears to be more serious this time, with a 44-page document outlining the ideas for a three-month public consultation. The second stage will focus on conceptual schemes and preliminary master plans, should people back the idea.

Despite efforts by the government to provide more land for development over the past few years, insufficient space remains an issue. It makes sense to seriously study what we could do with our underground space and start building downward.