In Hong Kong, open space comes at a premium. In fact, open space is so hard to come by that the average Hong Kong resident is lucky if they can find something larger than the size of a washroom cubicle.
The average open space for a person living in Hong Kong is 2 square meters, according to research by Civic Exchange, an independent public policy think tank based in Hong Kong. Using data from the Hong Kong government’s Planning Department obtained in 2012, the Civic Exchange reported that people living in Kennedy Town at the western end of Sai Wan had just 0.77 square meters of open space—a fraction the size of an actual coffin, according to the Hong Kong Free Press.
In comparison, people in Singapore have an average of 7.5 square meters of open space—nearly the size of a parking space—and New Yorkers have 29 square meters, the equivalent of a 310-square-foot apartment.
“Open space is an integral part of the urban environment and a place for community building,” writes Carine Lai, a project manager at Civic Exchange, in an op-ed for the South China Morning Post.
Lai argues that Hong Kong’s Development Bureau has placed a greater emphasis on developing public and private housing to address land shortages and very little on creating additional open space.
“All new developments are likely to be built at the expense of something else, be it reclaiming the harbor or taking up existing space,” says Ada Fung, senior director, sales management and strategic advisory for CBRE Hong Kong. What’s more important, says Fung, is striking a balance “between providing space for new developments and keeping open space for community use.”
In Kennedy Town, the Development Bureau is looking to demolish the Cadogan Street Temporary Garden, one of the few sources of open space in the area, for housing projects, a school, a harbor-front promenade, a parking garage and a bus terminal, the Hong Kong Free Press reported.
Without a doubt, Hong Kong is compact and would never be able to compare its open space provision with cities such as New York or Tokyo.
One caveat when comparing the open space disparity between New York, for instance, and Hong Kong is the difference in lifestyles between the two cities, argues Fung. This difference boils down to a combination of factors, such as culture, air quality and accessibility.
“For example, it might not be unusual for an elderly person in New York to grab a sandwich and sit in an open space just outside his or her apartment,” says Fung. “In contrast, a typical elderly person in Hong Kong would not choose to do that even if there were some open space nearby; they would rather go for dim sum at a restaurant.”
Civic Exchange is currently raising funds for a comprehensive study looking into the state of Hong Kong’s open spaces; donors who pledge HK$600 will get a 2-square-meter picnic blanket to give them a better view of what that size of open space actually looks like.
“Without a doubt, Hong Kong is compact and would never be able to compare its open space provision with cities such as New York or Tokyo,” says Fung. “I am hopeful that our town planners will come up with wise ways to create new public space for the Hong Kong community.”