Students Revitalise Wan Chai Parks in Urban-Design Workshops

Ricky Wong, 17, is adding plastic trees and a pond with some seats to the miniature model of a small park on Queen’s Road East. Given the task to redesign this particular open space as part of a creative workshop, he came up with the new features after discovering that a few people using the park had to endure the sweltering summer heat with little shade.

Ricky Wong (right) and his team.

He also has other ideas about creating parks for teenagers like himself. “Parks in Yuen Long, where I live, are mainly designed for young kids. There is a lack of places for teenagers,” he said. “It would be nice to have some quiet parks where I could hang out with my friends.”

Another student, 16-year-old Yanki Chan, agrees with Wong that Yuen Long does not have many parks suitably designed for teenagers and prefers going to air-conditioned coffee shops instead. For her miniature model of Bauhinia Garden in Wan Chai, Chan is creating a public bookcase in the park. “It could help promote reading in the community,” she said.

Wong and Chan are among 80 students who participated in the “Public Space Creative Lab,” which comprises lectures, interactive site visits of different public space in Wan Chai, and model-building workshops. The creative lab is part of the Jockey Club Civic Exchange “Reconnecting Open Space” Programme — funded by The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust – to improve public understanding of open-space issues in Hong Kong.

“We hope to expose students early on in their teens to new perspectives and ideas about the design of urban open space and how that relates to wellbeing,” said Vicky Kung, Project Manager of the programme. “These concepts are not usually part of the school curriculum but are crucial to nurturing students’ understanding of the community they live in and their sense of social responsibility.”

At the workshops, the students studied the characteristics of quality open-space design, interviewed park users, and applied what they have learned to reshape different Wan Chai parks in miniature models. The creative lab is hosted in collaboration with Civic Exchange’s project partner Hong Kong Public Space Initiative (HKPSI), a nonprofit that aims to help Hong Kong people make more effective use of the city’s public space through research, education and community engagement.

“Comparing to school talks that we normally do, this creative lab enables students to use their critical thinking to design open spaces,” said Joyce Tai, a HKPSI representative.

Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated cities in the world with very low per capita open space. Each Hong Konger only has 2.7m2 of open space, much lower than other Asian cities like Tokyo (5.8 m2), Seoul (6.1 m2), Shanghai (7.4 m2) and Singapore (7.6 m2), according to Civic Exchange’s 2017 study titled “Unopened Space: Mapping Equitable Availability of Open Space in Hong Kong”.

The current programme builds on the 2017 study to explore more than the quantity of open space but ways to improve the quality of different types of space.

As part of the programme, Civic Exchange conducted a public opinion survey polling 3,600 people across 18 districts on their usage and views of open space in their neighborhoods. A research report detailing survey findings will be published in October, followed by a large-scale public forum on 26 October.

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Photos credit: Hong Kong Public Space Initiative