Hong Kongers say: Give us room to breathe (and play!)

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Hong Kongers want better open space that can be used for more purposes and equipped with different amenities, according to a survey by a local think tank Civic Exchange. The group also calls for inclusive design and planning guidelines to satisfy people of all ages.

Over 50 percent of the young people want more barbecue pits and multi-purpose exercise spaces. 75 percent of parents wish for more open space for their kids to ride bicycles and scooters. And 58 percent of the elderly want better safety features such as handrails, non-slip paving and better lighting, the survey finds from 3,600 residents across 18 districts.

And among all the age groups, nearly half of the respondents want more shared cycling and jogging paths, shade, places to sit and chat, and lawns.

Civic Exchange, a think tank focusing on public policy, also gathered geospatial data on where the respondents live to pinpoint people on a map and analyse how their survey responses relate to the characteristics of the physical environment around them.

In this open space survey, the group finds that 85 percent of the residents visit an open space at least once a month. It shows a strong demand for and the necessity of open space.

Hong Kong is one of the world’s most crowded cities, with only 2.7m² of per capita recreational open space. It lags neighbouring cities such as Tokyo, Seoul and Singapore that provide 5.8m², 6.1m² and 7.4 m² of such space to their residents.

Living close to parks and open spaces could make people less anxious, even using spaces smaller than one hectare, the study finds. Living closer to these spaces also correlates with more frequent use of such space.

“Our studies have established a link between having easy and frequent access to open space and better emotional well-being,” claims Winnie Cheung, CEO of Civic Exchange.

“We hope the findings will inform policy and lead to more people-centric open space planning and design,” she adds.

Ms Carine Lai, senior researcher of the local think tank and author of this survey, tells Harbour Times that the authorities should bring open spaces closer to people and allow them to be open to creative use.

“Living within walking distance of open spaces is very important to make people actually visit them regularly, as most people aren’t willing to take public transport to go to those spaces,” she says.

Changing from policy

Ms Lai says the Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines are too rigid to allow for diversity in open space design, and the Pleasure Grounds Regulation (Cap. 132BC) also does little to promote flexible or vibrant activities in open space.

Currently, there is a 400m proximity guideline that applies only to what the Planning Department calls ‘local open space’, which are small parks intended to serve a small area like a neighbourhood.

“Tailor-made guidelines should be developed for inclusive open space design to balance the priorities and needs of different demographic groups and districts,” she says.

“This is to ensure that all residents live close to open spaces in the future, and the authorities should expand these guidelines to cover larger district open spaces.”

Ms Lai also urges more flexible and creative design and management of open spaces.

“This is to make them more user-friendly and to accommodate the needs of different people for various activities,” she adds.

Activities such as frisbees, kite-flying, or roller skating could be encouraged in certain zones. Currently, many parks are ‘no-fun zones’, with many forms of light recreation banned.

“Creativity is needed especially since we have a lot of space constraints in Hong Kong,” Ms Lai notes.

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