Urban planning

Improve use of idle sites for a lovable, liveable Hong Kong, new concern group urges 

Independent foundation Very Hong Kong launches ‘CollaborateHK’ campaign to promote creative projects on underused land

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 March, 2018, 11:14am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 March, 2018, 12:10pm

Take advantage of idle and underused local sites to help turn space-strapped Hong Kong into a lovable and liveable city, a newly founded concern group urged the government on Wednesday. 

Very Hong Kong, an independent not-for-profit foundation comprising about 10 professionals, including architects, planners and lawyers, called on the authorities to adopt a people-oriented mindset on the use of public spaces in Hong Kong and to streamline complicated procedures to facilitate the temporary use of government sites. 

Christopher Law, chief curator and co-founder of Very Hong Kong, said the group was formed in response to the lack of policy support for innovative use of idle sites. Its members hope to raise government awareness of the social and cultural needs of the people, not just their practical needs. 

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“In the past, we participated in a lot of community projects, and we found that community wisdom and creativity abound in this city, but available platforms to meet community needs are inadequate,” Law said. 

He pointed out that the Lands Department announced last year it had more than 800 idle sites available for short-term use by non-governmental organisations, but it was extremely difficult for the community to get final approval for projects due to the complicated process. 

“Whenever someone applies for short-term use of an idle site, he or she needs to seek approval from many government departments – sometimes more than 10 – including lands, planning, fire services, architectural services and education. The long and complicated process is really a turn-off for applicants,” Law said. 

The veteran architect cited the example of a two-day outdoor movie screening under a road bridge that took the organiser at least six months to obtain final approval for.

To better make use of the city’s idle land, Law suggested the government set up a task force specialising in handling the applications as well as streamlining the process. 

The government also needs to ditch its top-down approach in trying to turn Hong Kong into a lovable city
Christopher Law, architect

The ideal scenario, he said, was that the government was willing to listen to the real needs of the community about the use of land in Hong Kong, and to invest in cultivating a culture of humanity and closer neighbourhood ties. 

“The government also needs to ditch its top-down approach in trying to turn Hong Kong into a lovable city. Hong Kong can become a more liveable city if we can put our idle land and space to good use,” Law said. 

The group is launching a campaign called “CollaborateHK” in hope of driving community groups as well as those in the business sector and the government to join hands to encourage the creative use of idle or underutilised land, space and school premises in Hong Kong. 

Margaret Brooke, another of the group’s co-founders, said she hoped that the government would allocate more funding support for community groups that wanted to push forward vibrant community programmes. 

“The financial secretary has set aside HK$1 billion (US$128 million) in the recent budget to support organisations who want to use idle government land and school building premises. We can offer a new platform to facilitate this initiative,” she said.  

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The group will organise a “Sandbox” event from March 23 to 24 to gather ideas from about 100 stakeholders. It plans to submit a recommendation report to the government by the middle of this year via the Harbourfront Commission. 

“We will try our best to seek government support for our proposal, but it’s up to the government to decide whether it is willing to listen to the voice of the people about their community needs,” Law said. 

The group will invite ideas from the community for the use of eight idle sites it has selected, including a waterfront site at Sai Ying Pun, idle land at Shing Wong Street in Sheung Wan and a vacant waterfront site at Hoi Yu Steet, Quarry Bay.