Urban planning

Hong Kong can look to New York for inspiration as it works on delivering waterfront plan

City needs more ‘collaborative, bottom-up initiatives’ as it redevelops Kowloon and Hong Kong Island waterfronts

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 December, 2017, 3:18pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 December, 2017, 11:44am

Hong Kong’s harbourfront development, from reclaimed land to open public spaces, can be likened to New York’s waterfront transformation, but the city has lessons to learn from the Big Apple, say experts.

Projects investing in public spaces along the Kowloon and Hong Kong Island waterfronts are changing the landscape of the city’s harbour, with similarities to New York City’s waterfront plan which began in the 1990s.

“Hong Kong is not a great city for open spaces. It does not relate well to its harbour. A city like New York, similarly, did not relate well to its waterfront either, largely because it was an industrial waterfront,” said James Corner, a New York-based architect who was commissioned to redesign the recently opened Salisbury Garden on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront.

“Industry moved out and New York made investments for creating new linear waterfront parks. I think Hong Kong is beginning to do that,” said Corner. “Hong Kong is making big strides forward, and that is really important to making sure the city is a liveable place.”

In 1992, New York’s Department of City Planning launched its first Comprehensive Waterfront Plan to change the shoreline from an industrial one dominated by warehouses, to one for public use. In 2011, a 10-year plan for the city’s shoreline was released, with one section focusing on the development of more than 50 acres of new waterfront parks.

The plan has so far resulted in 220 miles of shorefront parks and publicly accessible waterfront areas, encompassing about half of the entire shoreline.

“I see New York as an exemplar,” said Nicholas Brooke, chairman of the Harbourfront Commission, set up in 2010 to oversee the development and management of harbourfront areas. “They have focused in a major way on getting people to the water and along the water site – on connectivity and accessibility.” The city’s progress is a good example of where Hong Kong would like to be in five to 10 years, he added.

But to achieve that, more proactive collaboration must occur between different players, as it did in New York, Brooke said.

Hong Kong’s 1997 Protection of the Harbour Ordinance limited further reclamation in the harbour, implying the current waterfront is at its final size and shape. “The task now is how to create a harbourfront that is the harbourfront for the next 1,000 years,” said Paul Zimmerman, a member of the Southern District Council for Pok Fu Lam and co-founder of Designing Hong Kong, a non-profit group focusing on better urban planning.

Salisbury Garden is one example of how local councils and developers are working together. In collaboration with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the local council, New World Development commissioned Corner to shape the space into a now open, green park on the harbourfront. The Avenue of the Stars, which is also being developed by urban design and architecture company James Corner Field Operations, is to open this time next year. New World has a management arrangement with the government, where it is able to manage the venues on behalf of the community in return for redevelopment.

“What is really noteworthy is developers usually just build buildings,” Corner said. “For them to take on all of this, not just Salisbury Gardens, but the renovation of the Avenue of the Stars, and a variety of other public spaces, is really quite visionary and unprecedented for a developer to invest in public space at this scale.”

Hong Kong needs more of this kind of collaborative, bottom-up initiatives from local councils and communities, just as New York’s waterfront was a result of proactive NGO activity, Brooke said.

“Everybody agrees the harbour and waterfront is important, but it requires a much more proactive approach on the part of the community” if more spaces like Salisbury Garden are to be created, he said.

However, rather than leaving it to local councils or developers, Zimmerman said it was up to the government to provide more institutional guidance and a pool of capital, to ensure these spaces are effectively managed. “We need to get the government committed and really invest in the waterfront, and quickly,” the councillor said.

“I think we’ve got all the ingredients, we just need to work a bit harder on the delivery process,” said Brooke.

The Development Bureau was unavailable for comment.