A think-tank has found that urban Hongkongers enjoy less than half as much open space as residents of other Asian metropolises, such as Tokyo, Shanghai and Singapore.

The Civic Exchange study said that residents of affluent areas may enjoy more than ten times as much open space as residents of working-class Mong Kok.

Photo: Civic Exchange.

“Residents of urban Hong Kong currently get an average of 2.7-2.8 square metres of open space per person,” wrote Civic Exchange. “Hong Kong is behind other Asian cities like Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai and Singapore, whose residents get 5.8 square metres to 7.6 square metres.”

“In high-income areas like The Peak, Kowloon Tong and Discovery Bay, some affluent residents have more than 8 square metres of open space, as well as access to other green areas. Residents of Mong Kok have just 0.6 square metres.”

Civic Exchange added that the most affected segments of the population were low-income citizens who do not live in public housing, as well as the elderly.

Unhealthy lifestyles

“The lack of open space in Hong Kong probably promotes unhealthy lifestyles and increases the effects of stress,” researcher Carine Lai told HKFP.

Civic Exchange
Photo: Civic Exchange.

“We know from overseas research that open space encourages people to exercise, facilitates social interaction, and improves mental health.”

In its administrative guidelines, the Planning Department recommends standards of providing 2 square metres of open space per person, which the think-tank called “about the size of a toilet cubicle.” It urged the revision of these standards to 3-3.5 square metres per person.

“While meeting housing demand is important, it should not cut off avenues for future quality of life improvements,” it said in its report. “[The government should] develop recreational spaces on land that has been zoned for open space, but has been left idle… such as under highway passes.”

Three major areas that the think-tank identified as suitable locations for more open space were the West Kowloon Cultural District, the Central-Wanchai waterfront, and the old Kai Tak Airport.

Civic Exchange also called on private property developers to provide more equality in access to open space. It urged the government to “eliminate or reduce the size of podiums and require developers to provide public open space at ground level instead.”

open space
Photo: Civic Exchange.

Lai told HKFP that opportunities to improve access for residents in Hong Kong’s most crowded areas, such as Mong Kok, are limited. However, she suggested that car parks and low-traffic streets could be converted into open space.

“We also need to improve the quality of existing open spaces, since they are so limited in size,” she said. “Many pocket parks in Mong Kok are not well-designed – there isn’t enough seating, shade or greenery.”

Recreational purpose

The Planning Department defines open space as a space that serves a recreational purpose in urban and populated rural areas. Undeveloped areas such as country parks are excluded, as are members-only clubs.

However, private space exclusively serving residents of luxury apartments or paying consumers, which Civic Exchange calls a “grey area,” is taken into account.

Private (left) and public (right) open space. Photo: Civic Exchange.

The department also distinguishes between regional, district and local open space, the latter of which must be within walking distance from a resident’s home.

Civic Exchange crowd-funded the study, obtaining more than HK$300,000 to analyse statistics on open space for almost a year.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.