Hong Kong losing public spaces that are so important to a city

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 November, 2014, 5:31am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 November, 2014, 5:31am

Hong Kong is always described as an energetic, exciting, international and economically prosperous city.

While there are spectacular skyscrapers standing on both sides of the stunning Victoria Harbour, more and more stores representing local cultures and which are part of the city's history, are substituted, or eroded, by merchant groups. There is more commercialisation and privatisation of Hong Kong.

Some sociologists view Hong Kong as a city of walls. Different shopping malls are connected by bridges and form a sky city. Streets are occupied not only by protesters, but also brand-name boutiques, multinational corporations, chain stores, vehicles and luxurious hotels.

Although these places are publicly accessible areas, visitors are monitored and evaluated in terms of class, race and gender for commercial purposes.

Even at some pseudo-public areas like parks, sitting on grass is prohibited.

Commercialisation and privatisation of space are usually taken for granted in Hong Kong for different economic and geographical reasons, but the picture is quite different abroad and on the mainland. Singapore's public space is three times more of that in Hong Kong.

Seoul's newly revitalised Cheonggyecheon River provides public space for gathering and relaxation. Other dense Asian cities like Tokyo and Taipei also do a better job than Hong Kong.

Although it is difficult for the powerless majority to alter government policies, people should at least recognise their essential rights to plan the city, and the essential nature of space and land.

It is rather more important for people to conserve the cultural and environmental values of space because these take time to nurture and they are unique.

Mong Kok without street performers is not Mong Kok, a forest without trees is not a forest.

Public space can help enrich the cultural and environmental values of a space through continuous interaction of people.

Breathing fresh air, enjoying green belt scenery, and playing in a playground are basics of a modern city yet precious in Hong Kong because more and more of these areas are planned for development.

For the sake of Hong Kong, we need more public space, not less.

Martin Lee, Lam Tin