Let's have a ball in HK

Adrian Wan
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Caption: Twins Felix and Cass Tamblyn play with "Freedom Balls" at Sha Tin Park as part of a campaign against restrictions in parks. Photo: David Wong

Lay off the rules - a new campaign is taking on the government and its park keepers in an effort to loosen up the regulations on what we can and can't do in the city's open spaces, writes Adrian Wan

The park is supposed to be one of the few places in a busy city you can enjoy a little freedom.

But walk into one of Hong Kong's open spaces and you're likely to be greeted by signs warning 'No ball games' and 'Keep off the grass'. In some of our parks, painting, singing and dancing are also banned.

But recently, David Biddlecombe and his Freedom Ball campaign have been challenging these rules.

Biddlecombe, who runs an education curriculum development company, moved to Hong Kong 13 years ago. He was soon frustrated by how little he could do in the city's parks, and by the way they were managed, regulated and designed.

So for the last two years, in a gentle show of civil disobedience, the Englishman has been placing large inflatable balls in parks and encouraging people to play with them any way they liked.

According to Biddlecombe, many parents have embraced the idea. They used the balls - printed with the slogan 'Say no to no fun' - to keep their children amused and to express their dissatisfaction at the rules and restrictions.

Security guards stopped Biddlecombe's activities several times, and at Quarry Bay Park, staff threatened to call the police when he ignored their instructions. He knew ball games were not allowed, but his aim was to get park users and managers talking together about the restrictions.

At the end of November at Sha Tin Park, Freedom Ball held its biggest event. As hundreds of big, red balls bounced around freely, people of all ages had fun chasing, throwing, kicking or lying on them.

'Even with so many balls in the park, there were no problems and people had a very enjoyable day. I think it shows clearly that we can be a bit more relaxed about regulating and controlling public spaces', he said.

During the event, Biddlecombe, his family and Freedom Ball's volunteer team, toured the park asking people to complete a survey. The results showed 97 per cent of the 70 people who took part thought ball games should be allowed in parks, 90 per cent wanted more grass, and 77 per cent wanted more open areas for free play and relaxation.

But is this crowded city large enough to satisfy these wishes? 'Absolutely. Hong Kong has less space for parks than most cities. The Sha Tin Park has three small areas of open grass, which people really enjoyed playing on during our campaign, but much of the park is not actually accessible to the public with many areas being fenced off,' he said.

'It's precisely because there is so little public space in Hong Kong that it is important that what public space we do have is made accessible to the public,' he added.

Biddlecombe now plans to meet park managers to talk about his survey and changes that could be made to the rules controlling the use of parks.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department did not respond to questions at the time of writing.

For more information, go to freedomball.blogspot.com

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