Quality matters: Optimising Hong Kong’s open spaces

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It is almost impossible for Hong Kong to rival other developed metropoles in terms of quantity of open spaces due to topographical constraints (our infamously hilly relief) and extreme density, we should focus instead on optimising the quality of these spaces.

Statistically speaking, Hong Kong is one of the greenest cities in the world. Less than 25% of our total land area is developed and more than 40% of that is dedicated to country parks and nature reserves. Unlike Los Angeles or London, where the city encroaches tens of miles into the countryside, our insanely compact urban centres have successfully prevented urban sprawl from becoming prevalent. However, the contrast between developed and undeveloped areas is stark. The city’s urban fabric is highly segregated from its natural assets.

A walk down Nathan Road would make one realise how difficult it is to simply find some space to breathe, let alone have some peace and tranquility. Hong Kong may have a great deal of country parks, but not a lot of urban parks are here to provide a buffer from the cacophony of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Even when parks do exist, they embody the city’s strange obsession with concrete. Many parks are vast expanses of paved concrete with a few nicely decorated benches, shrubbery and some trees. They hardly constitute as green spaces, nor can they be fully utilised by the public.

Tamar Park is an excellent example of good open space design. It answers the needs of the public via the practice of simplicity. It does not have elaborately designed paths, hedges, koi ponds or gazebos. What it does have is a large open area of grass where the public can easily access, where physical barriers do not restrict their interaction with the space.

Open spaces may not be abundant in Hong Kong, but reviving existing spaces or perhaps utilising vertical spaces, such as sky gardens between buildings, is the way forward. New York, one of the very few cities that can match our urban density has achieved this by transforming an abandoned railway viaduct into a popular elevated public park called the High Line.

Density has always been one of our strengths. Working with innovative urban design to optimise open spaces, we can turn the dense urban core into an environment that is less claustrophobic and more desirable and livable.