This competition is part of a three-year research plan focused on the study and assessment of open public spaces in Hong Kong’s Central and Western District. The inadequate provision of open spaces in urban areas is one of the most recurrent challenges for the Hong Kong government. In various districts of Hong Kong, the provision of open public spaces is well below the standard set by the Planning Department, while the spatial quality of these spaces is also questionable. This research aimed to investigate the open public spaces in Hong Kong’s Central and Western District to provide a set of clear and practicable urban design guidelines for enhancing the district’s open spaces and thereby improving the quality of life of its residents.

The study examined 25 public open spaces scattered across an area of approximately 190 hectares, which cover a wide range of spaces such as parks, plazas, playgrounds, sitting-out areas, gardens, and pocket spaces. The detailed spatial and social survey, carried out over the past 18 months, revealed that a large percentage of these spaces are underused, as well as poorly managed and designed. The field survey was conducted in all target areas during workdays from 9 am to 7 pm. The days were split into four timeslots: morning, lunchtime, afternoon and evening. The spatial analysis revealed that 80% of the existing case studies are outdated, with a set of homogenous and standard design solutions applied to vastly different urban contexts. Most of them have led to situations of rigid spatial organisation with a static layout which neither encourages flexible usage nor promotes a diverse and vibrant urban environment. The analysis indicated a prevalence of small and medium-sized spaces with the main typologies identified as sitting-out areas, children’s playgrounds, and rest gardens.

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The 25 cases studies selected are in large part designed and managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD). The use of public open space under the LCSD is governed by the Pleasure Grounds Regulation (PGR) under Chapter 132 of Hong Kong Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance. Unfortunately, the PGR’s strict rules and guidelines limit the potential for developing public life as well as uses that typically animate a public space such as cycling, skating, walking dogs, and sitting or walking on the grass, which are often not allowed in those public open spaces we studied. These spaces provide different types of facilities such as seating areas, trees or canopies, and children’s playgrounds. However, in most of the cases analysed, the lack of specificity to the urban context and the absence of an active interface between the public and private realms compromise their vibrancy and vitality. And, apart from a few examples, it seems that these spaces do not reflect the actual needs of the community.

The results of the study revealed the lack of a planning vision shared by stakeholders and government authorities. The urban design guidelines established would also provide a valuable point of reference for public space policymakers in Hong Kong’s Planning Department, proposing the creation of a comprehensive and integrated planning approach at the district level. Potentially, the outcome of this work will facilitate a more sustainable upgrading of the existing public spaces in the core areas of the city, providing a more comprehensive approach to urban renewal in the territory and offering a replicable model for other Hong Kong districts.

Francesco Rossini

Assistant Professor
The School of Architecture, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

*The Research has been founded by the University Grant Committee of Hong Kong