A recent proposal to the Town Planning Board (TPB) by a retired government town planner to cancel the Central-to-Admiralty segment of the tram service has demonstrated how ridiculous our town planning procedures can get.
Many are simply astounded by the fact that the threshold for submitting public applications to the TPB for changes in land use is so low that even a proposal as unpopular and unjustifiable as that one can be officially considered.
However, the mind-boggling episode has also seriously inspired us to think about how we can make use of that low threshold the other way around — to take back the public space in our city and reshape our urban landscape in the best interests of the general public.
As the public outcry against the proposal to remove part of the tramline continues, the Clean Air Network, Designing Hong Kong, Friends of the Earth and the Conservancy Association joined forces to launch the Rezoning Central program in early September.
We have tabled our submission to the TPB proposing to lay artificial turf on the sidewalk in front of the Hang Seng Bank headquarters in Central to allow our citizens to read or perform in public.
Our proposal is not only aimed at enhancing urban greening and expanding the area of public space in our central business district but also at reclaiming the rights of our pedestrians.
The fact that the sidewalks in our city tend to be so narrow while roads for cars are often much wider suggests that our policymakers have given priority to motorists over pedestrians, which also, to some extent, reflects how they perceive the social hierarchy in our city.
Those who own cars often belong to the upper class and are more influential socially and economically, therefore they deserve preferential treatment at the expense of pedestrians, who are mostly grass-roots people in the eyes of our government officials.
In other words, our program is aimed not only at promoting urban greening but also at fostering community empowerment.
A similar movement, known as the “parklet movement”, got underway in San Francisco in recent years.
Citizens and the city government there are working together to turn idle parking lots across the city into community gardens and public space and community facilities for various purposes.
Today, there are 50 parklets across San Francisco.
As the Rezoning Central program is in full swing, we are already planning an even bigger project.
Based on suggestions put forward by the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, we are going to propose to the TPB to designate the section of Des Voeux Road Central between Pedder Street and Morrison Street as an exclusive area for public recreation and an environmentally friendly transport system, thereby creating a sanctuary in our urban heartland where citizens can enjoy themselves.
In the days ahead, we will be giving talks and conducting workshops to rally support from the public, the professional community and the business sector for our project, and we will also be setting up the Des Voeux Road Central Alliance later this month to promote our plan and get the message across.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 21.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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