Civic Exchange today launched a new report entitled Walkable City, Living Streets. This report studies the walking environment in the city, draws on the best practices from overseas cities, and maps out what it takes for Hong Kong to become a world class city for pedestrians.
Hong Kong is walkable in some areas, but……
Hong Kong’s vitality and vibrancy have always associated with our compact built environment, mixed land use and the perpetual stream of people and activities on our streets. As a layered city, Hong Kong can offer some excellent examples of good walkability. For instance, there is an extensive elevated footbridge system that connects major commercial buildings, shopping malls, and public transport nodes in Central. There is also a well-developed underground pedestrian networks stemming from main railway stations. Under government’s planning, all-weather pedestrian facilities will be provided in Kowloon East for better connectivity to nearby transport nodes and the waterfront.
However, the report identifies through surveys in four local districts common issues about the urban pedestrian environment that need to be addressed, such as difficult wayfinding, lack of at-grade crossings, poor permeability, inconsistent signage and maps, over-crowding, long detours, street obstacles, inadequate universal access, lack of seating, and unattractive street aesthetics. Hong Kong’s urban and transport development strategy over the last forty years has focused mainly on building large scale housing and transport infrastructure projects which sometimes conflict with, and mostly override, the pedestrian scale.
A pro-pedestrian planning approach needed
“Walking has slowly regained ground in recent years, for the sake of human health, environmental sustainability and city liveability,” explained Wilson Lau, one of the co-authors of the report. Despite decades of motorization and car-dependent city development and planning worldwide, many cities have developed streets as public spaces which not only act as major thoroughfares, but also as engaging hotspots for social interaction, and in doing so foster a sense of community and social connectedness. Walkability generates vitality, which in turn attracts visitors and talent to a city.
Walkable City, Living Streets also examines ten cities of a development level and scale similar to Hong Kong. It is found that many cities have already charged ahead with pro-people initiatives and plans that have transformed way of life and created better environment for pedestrians. Strong leadership, overarching goals and strategies, a people-first planning mentality, and stakeholder partnership are some of the common key ingredients for change.
“We are facing many difficulties and challenges as a pedestrian every day in Hong Kong,” said Mr. Simon Ng, Head of Transport and Sustainability Research of Civic Exchange and lead author of the report. “However, improving walkability in Hong Kong should go beyond problem-fixing. Removing street obstacles, for example, could only cure a symptom. If we want to tackle the root of the issue, we need a shift from a pro-car to a pro-pedestrian planning approach,” Ng further asserted. Shifting Hong Kong’s development agenda from mega-scale to human-scale infrastructure will improve air quality at street-level, enhance local accessibility and connectivity, provide quality street environments for pedestrians and cyclists, promote better mobility for all, and create safe and attractive public space for everyone to share.
Another important driver is the concept of ‘streets as destinations’. “Apart from their transport function, streets are also public spaces for interaction, and access to quality public space is a right for everyone, not a privilege for a chosen few,” Ng explained. In this regards, this report revisits the definition of streets and the function of pedestrian space. Better walkability requires an improvement in the physical condition of pavements, crossings and other pedestrian facilities, as well as an enrichment of activities or experience provided in the shared street space.
Hong Kong can be a walkable city
To make Hong Kong a world-class city for pedestrians, we need an overarching vision for the city that is people-based, low-carbon, sustainable and equal; an audit of existing facilities and planning processes to identify bottlenecks and barriers; and an engagement plan which involves different stakeholders including local communities, where talent can be tapped and partnerships be nurtured.
On the benefits of improved walkability, Ng emphasized that “a walkable Hong Kong will enhance pedestrian movement with more people walking, and walking for longer distances. Better streets will enrich social life and strengthen community bonding. Improved accessibility and public space will enormously enhance the well-being of low-income groups, who have limited options for transport and social activity. It will make Hong Kong a liveable city.”
The four local areas surveyed in the study were Central, Tsim Sha Tsui, Mongkok and Ma On Shan. The ten overseas cases were Barcelona, London, Melbourne, New York, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo
This research was supported by the MTR Corporation.