28 October 2016
Studies have found that pedestrian-friendly streets increase property values. Photo: Savills
Studies have found that pedestrian-friendly streets increase property values. Photo: Savills

Kwun Tong rising: How walkability boosts the property market

Sidewalks have been widened, new crosswalks installed and signaling adjusted at 34 different locations in Kowloon Bay, Ngau Tau Kok and Kwun Tong.

Even the area’s back alleys have been decorated with murals and wayfinding signage in the hope of making them more pleasant places to walk.

More ambitious plans are in the works.

The government encourages building owners to build subways and footbridges, which could eventually create a parallel, grade-separated pedestrian network like the one in Central.

A new commercial building developed by leading Singapore developer Mapletree at the corner of Kwun Tong Road and Wai Yip Street, which will be launched in October 2017, is a prime example.

The government has been in touch with Mapletree on the feasibility and details for connecting the Kwun Tong waterfront promenade with Ngau Tau Kok MTR by a sheltered pathway.

There is a lot of money at stake.

The government says Kowloon East has the potential to add five million square meters of additional commercial and office space but tenants may not be drawn to the area unless they see improvements to the quality of its public space.

Since the neighborhoods being transformed into CBD2 were originally developed as industrial areas, some of the pavements cater to loading and unloading of goods instead of being pedestrian-friendly.

As the number of office tenants has grown, pedestrian facilities have quickly become a topic that cannot be ignored.

Studies have found that pedestrian-friendly streets increase property values; in the United States, denser, more walkable cities have higher GDP per capita than sprawling areas that make it hard to get around by foot.

Hong Kong already does well on paper — more than 80 percent of the population gets around by bus, rail and foot.

But they may be suffering in the process, as pedestrians have to put up with narrow footpaths, dripping air-conditioners, lack of street trees and a limited number of street crossings.

“Pedestrians are not put first and are often excluded in favor of vehicle users at the urban planning level,” says local think tank Civic Exchange.

Many streets in Kowloon East feel more like highways, with delivery trucks and cars racing by pedestrians.

The government’s plan to create a network of footbridges and subways may help shelter pedestrians from traffic and the elements but surveys have revealed that people like having the option to walk at street level, too.

When the government closed surface-level crossings on Salisbury Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, forcing pedestrians to walk through a subway to reach the harborfront, it set off a decade-long campaign to restore crosswalks.

The surface crossing was finally reopened last year.

In October, Civic Exchange will host Walk 21, an international conference on walkability.

Experts from around the world will offer their insight on how to make Hong Kong and other cities more pedestrian-friendly places.

Hopefully the government will be taking notes. The value of Hong Kong’s newest office district could be at stake.

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Deputy Senior Director, Office Leasing, Savills

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