The ‘15-minute city’ offers climate and people-friendly urban living, but can it work in Hong Kong?
- As cities become ever more sprawling and congested, the idea of being able to live, work, buy goods and enjoy green spaces all within the same walkable area is an enticing one
- The concept is being embraced by cities worldwide, but there are hurdles to implementing it in Hong Kong
The idea has swept across China and cites around the world, including Paris, Barcelona, Milan, Melbourne, Ottawa and Portland. Could it also one day be implemented in Hong Kong?
The C40, a global network of nearly 100 city mayors, have agreed on the core tenets of the 15-minute city. Firstly, residents of every neighbourhood should have easy access to basic goods and services, particularly fresh food and health care.
Second, each neighbourhood will promote community inclusion by offering a variety of public and private housing of different sizes and levels of affordability, to accommodate a range of households.
Finally, each 15-minute zone must offer green spaces for everyone to enjoy.
In Paris, the 15-minute city and “hyper-proximity” were key pillars of Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s successful 2020 re-election campaign. The aim is for residents to be able to find everything they need within walking or cycling distance, including grocery stores, offices, parks, schools, coffee shops, fitness studios, hospitals and clinics.
By 2024, cycle paths will be installed on every street and bridge, while 60,000 on-street car parking spaces will be converted into office space or co-working hubs. To address the lack of green spaces, small parks will be added to school playgrounds and will be open to the public outside school hours.
In mainland China, progress has already been made in developing “15-minute community circles”. Last year, 30 cities and districts, including Shanghai, were chosen to pilot the project, and another 50 have been announced this year. The schemes now cover more than 2,000 communities, serving more than 23 million residents.
Bloomberg News has described the 15-minute city as a “utopia” of urban planning. Is this utopia achievable in Hong Kong?
However, transforming Hong Kong into a 15-minute city may not yet be feasible. Such a concept emphasises self-sufficiency over connectivity. Currently, Hong Kong is divided according to function, with separate industrial, commercial, and residential areas. Moreover, the ability to walk or cycle is central to the community-friendly lifestyle of the 15-minute city, which is hardly the reality we see today.
However, these cycle tracks are mainly intended for recreational use; they do not constitute a principal mode of transport. This mindset is reflected in the Transport Department’s route-planning mobile app HKeMobility, which includes routes for driving or walking but not for cycling.
For example, the Transport Department can start by including cycle paths in the Intelligent Road Network (IRN), a government data platform which provides information on roads and traffic across Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, when planning or upgrading roads in the New Territories, bicycles should form a key part of the transport infrastructure, with more parking spaces for bicycles and wider safety islands between roads to reduce competition between cyclists and pedestrians.
Dr Winnie Tang is an adjunct professor at the University of Hong Kong, and founder and honorary president of the Smart City Consortium