Destroying urban parks to create underground spaces is not holistic planning

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 March, 2017, 9:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 March, 2017, 6:22pm

In his letter (“Not underestimating the difficulties in developing underground spaces in Hong Kong”, March 8), the head of the Geotechnical Engineering Office, Pun Wai-keung, notes that such development “demands efforts to plan holistically and generate solutions that suit the needs of individual areas and the interests of society”.

He then describes issues that can hinder underground development, such as building foundations, underground utilities, MTR tunnels, narrow streets, a busy traffic environment and land ownership. So, rather than work around these limitations, we then get the easy option that “sizeable parks in the proximity of MTR stations can be an option that offers opportunity spaces with less physical constraints”.

No mention of the function parks and open spaces play in crowded urban districts in providing essential open air recreational facilities, both active and passive, providing contact with nature that confers well-documented benefits with regard to physical health, and alleviation of mental fatigue and stress.

But an even greater benefit is that they encourage social interaction and are de-facto town squares in built-up districts. Unlike cities elsewhere, Hong Kong has few civic gathering spaces where citizens can meet, relax and catch up with friends.

Instead of recognising the benefits our public parks confer on the community, and their role in improving physical and psychological health, strengthening community ties and providing – free of charge – an environment where people of different ages and income levels can mingle, our town planner sees them as easy options for exploitation. Of course, allusion is made to providing community facilities, but it is quite obvious that the core intent is to build more shopping malls and the developments will only go ahead if they are commercially viable.

Not only is the administration callously planning to excavate our parks, cut down trees and destroy much of their natural resources, the plans completely ignore current trends that indicate that the future for retail lies in online shopping, drone and robot deliveries, and the need for large logistic centres, rather than the now-outdated shopping mall. Our core shopping districts already have dozens of boarded-up units.

A government in tune with the times would be planning for the future and providing employment opportunities close to the planned new towns in order to avoid the many issues that plague districts like Tin Shui Wai. So much for holistic planning.

Paul Kumar, for Tsim Sha Tsui Residents’ Concern Group