In recent years, we have come to recognise the importance of making our cities not just car accessible but more liveable. We now can see the physical and mental health benefits this promotes. One path taken towards this by cities such as London and New York is to improve the pedestrian environment, thus encouraging people to walk more and for longer distances.
In both cities, streets have been re-designed as public spaces that serve not only as major thoroughfares for traffic, but also as areas for recreation and social interaction, others have been fully pedestrianised. In New York, a former railway line cutting through the west side of the city was turned into a public park. We have come to see that walkability breeds vitality, which in turn attracts tourists and talent to a city. This sort of vitality also breeds community.
Hong Kong, as a layered city, has some excellent examples of good walkability. The extensive elevated footbridge system that connects major commercial buildings, shopping malls, and public transport in Central, is one example. There is also a well-developed underground pedestrian network from the main MTR stations allowing ease of movement in the city regardless of the weather. In some transit-oriented newer Hong Kong communities, such as Shatin, integration between transport and land use has enhanced the vertical and horizontal movement of people.
Indeed, in Hong Kong, much of our vibrancy is associated with our compact built environment, mixed land use and the perpetual stream of people and activities on our streets. Unfortunately, with some exceptions, our urban development strategy over the last forty years has focused mainly on building large scale housing and transport infrastructure projects that sometimes conflict with, and mostly override, the pedestrian.
Poor urban planning has meant roadside air quality is poor, neighborhood connectivity is fragmented, and there is an ongoing conflict between vehicles and pedestrians. Recognising that our city and social cohesion could be better, civil society has urged a pro-pedestrian transport and city planning policy, with a shift in the city’s development agenda from mega-scale to human-scale infrastructure.
To make Hong Kong a world-class city for pedestrians, we need to begin with a city vision that is people-based, low-carbon, sustainable and equal, is the argument.
Civic Exchange (CE), Hong Kong’s only independent public policy think tank and a longtime partner of ADMCF, has long been a proponent of walkable cities. With its mission to advance civic education and engage society to shape public policy Civic Exchange undertakes research in air quality, nature conservation and urban environment.
Hoping to extend this conversation in our city, in October, Civic Exchange will partner with Walk21, an international leader in advocating walking, to produce a conference exploring global best practices of “pedestrian-first” communities.
Walk21 Hong Kong — Walking and Liveable Communities – will be held at the Hong Kong Convention Centre from 3-7 October. Walk21 has already been staged in 16 cities and attended by over 8,000 participants, but this year marks the first time it will take place in Asia.
The interactive Conference will highlight how pedestrianisation promotes economic growth, social inclusion, better health, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a plethora of other benefits that contribute to our collective well-being.
The forum will bring together over 500 delegates and world-class speakers from a number of disciplines, including city mayors, industry experts, chief executives, civil society organisations as well as leading academics. Walk21 offers great networking opportunities and a unique chance to understand the implications of walkable cities.
As part of the Conference, Hong Kong’s Des Voeux Road and East Kowloon projects will be explored. The Des Voeux Road initiative aims to convert a traffic-intensive area with bad air pollution in Hong Kong’s Central Business District into a tram and pedestrian-only space. The East Kowloon project, meanwhile, is an emerging success story of how Hong Kong manages to inject new development, vibrancy and diversity into a previous industrial district.