The upcoming sale of a government building in Mong Kok is a valuable chance to improve walkability in the area, but officials are shirking their responsibility. An edited version of the article below appeared in the South China Morning Post on 2 January 2016.
Paul Zimmerman, Pok Fu Lam district councillor and CEO of Designing Hong Kong.
I like the Ombudsman’s recent public announcements that tai chi is healthy, but not in public administration. Tai chi, in local slang, means to shirk responsibility. The Ombudsman, Connie Lau Yin-hing, is already so busy clearing obvious cases of maladministration that I wonder whether she will have time for the well-practised, evasive language bureaucrats dish out when they reply to proposals and questions.
In our campaign to improve walkability, our latest encounter with tai chi is over the sale of the Trade and Industry Department (TID) Tower, formerly known as Argyle Centre Tower II, on Nathan Road in Mong Kok. It is a 1980s building owned by the government. The tender for its sale closes on January 8. We have asked for it to include terms which oblige the buyer to internalise the links to Mong Kok MTR station and the Mong Kok Road footbridge. These stairs and escalators currently obstruct pavements and roads surrounding the building. Mongkok MTR station exits B1, B2 and B3 occupy the south and east pavements. Staircases of the Mongkok Road footbridge built by Sun Hung Kei occupy the pavement and two lanes of Mong Kok Road north of the building.
Removing these structures from the adjacent pavements and roads would improve pedestrian and vehicular circulation at street level. Moreover, linking the footbridge with a new Argyle Street footbridge via the Argyle Centre Towers is a critical piece of the puzzle the government has been struggling with: the creation of a comprehensive elevated pedestrian network desperately needed to alleviate the overcrowding of Mong Kok’s streets.
The sale of the building is a one-off opportunity to improve walkability. If we fail to spell out these requirements in the tender, it will be hard to convince the buyer to give up gross floor area and to invest in the works later.
The Government Property Agency’s first move to shirk responsibility was outrageous. It said: “Having consulted the Transport Department, we note that it would cause inconvenience to the pedestrians. It would require pedestrians to pass through the internal area of the building before reaching the footbridge and Nathan Road. The route, which will not be open at all times, will be indirect and is not desirable from the perspectives of property management and cost-effectiveness.”
We pointed out that there are many buildings in Hong Kong where this happens all the time, including 100 Queen’s Road Central and the Central-Mid-Levels escalator.
The second tai chi move was claiming that our proposal for amending the tender would cause undue delay to the disposal of the building. The government decided to proceed as scheduled so that “the office space in the TID Tower can be released to the market in a timely manner in accordance with our announced plan to increase the supply of commercial space in prime locations to meet keen market demand”.
This is not the first time we have encountered a misplaced focus on expediency over walkability.
When it became clear in 2009 that the Tamar footbridge would stop 10cm short of Admiralty Centre, we wrote to the government and pointed out the importance of a direct link into the elevated system of Queensway Plaza, Pacific Place and the connected buildings. Officials replied that it would require too much time to negotiate with the owners of Admiralty Centre. So instead, we now all have to go down to street level and back up again to continue on our way.
The government’s third tai chi move talked of how they would “encourage the successful bidder to consider ways of enhancing the connection between the TID Tower and the existing footbridge system and adjoining commercial buildings to improve the surrounding environment”.
From the failures to link Kowloon Bay Station and MegaBox, the Sheraton Hotel and the Middle Road Tunnel, and the Nexxus Building and the Central footbridge, we know that encouragement means little in the Government’s dictionary.
Which department will be responsible for such “encouraging” once the building has been sold? Would this include links to the MTR? Who would pay for the removal of the structures on the pavements and road? Will a bonus plot ratio be offered to compensate for the public passages through the property? Will the land premium be waived for the links over and under government land? These questions go on.
All this would be so much easier to resolve before selling the building. Instead, we will have to wait and see whether this encouragement is real or simply a wimpy tai chi move, another one for the Ombudsman’s tray.
由早上8時至中午12時，總共超過34,106訪客曾進入郊野公園，並透過義工獲得保衛郊野公園的資訊。社交媒體（包括Facebook 活動專頁和Instagram）有著過千相片或影片標籤了 #保衛郊野公園。
Over 200 volunteers from 16 organisations and individuals set up more than 30 stations at key entrances to 20 of Hong Kong’s 24 country parks. The volunteers counted visitors and asked them to take selfies in support of safeguarding country parks. The mega event gave Hong Kong people an opportunity to stand up and oppose those wanting to use country parks for development.
Prof. Lam added: “The national government has decided to incorporate special ecological areas within its urban planning strategy. We should do likewise, yet there are increasing threats from developments. Hong Kong has a unique treasure with our extensive country parks system – which no other World City can rival. Developers and government should not encroach on this unique asset. Today’s event shows that people care and are willing to stand up to protect the country parks for our next generations.”
According to the Country and Marine Parks Authority’s Progress Report, the number of visitors has increased 24.8% compared with last summer – clearly showing that country parks are ever more important for leisure and relaxation for Hong Kong residents and visitors.
Prof. Wong Fook-yee, adjunct professor of the Geography and Resource Management Department of CUHK, related the history and objectives of establishing Hong Kong country parks, and said they should be conserved and protected.
“We have more than ten thousands members – all of whom love the country parks –and this continues to grow,” said SK Shum, organiser of Hong Kong Hiking Meetup. “The country parks are for gathering and meeting new people, for sports and recreation, for our health.”
Suzanne Cheung, CEO of Friends of the Earth (Hong Kong), said, “I love country parks, and am keenly aware of the environmental benefits – such as providing habitats for wildlife to enhance biodiversity, trees absorb carbon dioxide (GHG) to mitigate climate change, greenery that benefits our mental and physical health, and as a source of clean drinking water.”
The groups also called on the Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to stay true to his Election Manifesto, in which he promised that “We will protect our country parks and bodies of land and water with ecological value, and formulate long-term plans for other areas of land available for development.”
More photos and pictures on the press meeting will be uploaded on Save Our Country Parks Facebook Page.
For more hikers’ supportive pictures, please visit #SaveOur CountryParks event page.
Ark Eden、香港地貌岩石保育協會、爭氣行動、創建香港、Eco-Sys Action、香港大學學生會理學會環境生命科學學會、海下之友、西貢之友、大浪灣之友、香港地球之友、綠色社區、綠色大嶼山協會、綠色力量、環保觸覺、綠領行動、綠色和平、香港自然生態論壇、香港單車同盟、香港海豚保育學會、Hong Kong Outdoors、大嶼山愛護水牛協會、島嶼活動行動、活在南丫、勃勃海洋、西貢大浪灣關注組、香港自然探索學會、長春社、香港觀鳥會、世界自然基金會香港分會
香港遠足覓合團、Sai Kung Buffalo Watch、守護大嶼聯盟、徑‧香港
“Save Our Country Parks Alliance” Members and Partners include green, hiking and other concern groups who seek to safeguard Hong Kong’s Country Parks:
Ark Eden, Association for Geoconservation, Hong Kong, Clear the Air, Designing Hong Kong, Eco-Sys Action, Environmental Life Science Society, SS, HKUSU, Friends of Hoi Ha, Friends of Sai Kung, Friends of Tai Long Wan, Friends of the Earth (Hong Kong), Green Community, Green Lantau Association, Green Power, Green Sense, Greeners Action, Greenpeace, HKWildlife.net, Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, Hong Kong Cycling Alliance, Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, Hong Kong Outdoors, Lantau Buffalo Association, Living Islands Movement, Living Lamma, Living Seas Hong Kong, Sai Kung Tai Long Wan Concern Group, Society of Hong Kong Nature Explorers, The Conservancy Association, WWF-Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Hiking Meet Up, Sai Kung Buffalo Watch、Save Lantau Alliance, TrailWatch.
One-off opportunity to improve Mongkok
The Government has announced the sale of the vacant Trade and Industry Department Tower (TID Tower) in Mongkok to the private sector.
This provides an one-off opportunity to relocate the lifts and staircases connecting the Mongkok Road Footbridge System and the Mongkok MTR station into the TID Tower.
Exits B1, B2 and B3 of the Mongkok MTR station occupy adjacent pavements, and the adjacent section of Mongkok Road was reduced by two lanes for staircases and lifts to the footbridge.
Roads and pavements around the TID Tower are narrow. Relocating the staircases and lifts would allow widening of the footway, the carriageway, or both.
It is common in Hong Kong to ask property owners to create public access to footbridges and MTR stations. Architects and developers understand the design, engineering and management challenges of internalizing public lifts and staircases, and allowing pedestrians to pass through private buildings.
The obligation to incorporate the staircases and lifts would not be detrimental to a sale. By specifying 24 hour access, minimum width and capacity in the tender, potential buyers can consider the implications prior to making their bid for this government property.
Whether buyers plan to redevelop the site or re-use the building as is, they will simply consider the cost and the space needed, and adjust the amount they bid accordingly.
The sale of the TID Tower provides a ‘once and for all’ opportunity. Once the site is sold it will be difficult to improve the area as future resumption is unpractical.
Making changes to the tender will cause a slight delay in the sale of the TID Tower. It is worth the effort as it would improve the pedestrian environment and traffic flow, and make Mongkok a better place for all.
關注東涌發展的組織包括： 創建香港、生態教育及資源中心、綠色力量、香港觀鳥會、Hong Kong Outdoors、大嶼山愛護水牛協會、長春社、世界自然（香港）基金會
An alliance of concern groups has submitted a proposal to Government for a River Nature Park covering the Tung Chung River and Estuary.
The proposal is for Government to resume the private land along the Tung Chung River, most of which will be zoned for conservation and coastal protection uses according to the Tung Chung New Town Recommended Outline Development Plan published by the Planning Department in 2014.
It is proposed that the land is resumed for public purposes including flood control andnature conservation. We further propose that the Tung Chung River Nature Park will be managed as a public amenity for leisure, recreation and appreciation of nature, as well as for flood hydraulics.
We believe this proposal will benefit land owners, as well as local residents and visitors. The park will provide a quality nature experience for the growing population of Tung Chung and for visitors, while protecting the community from flooding.
Alliance of concern groups includes: Designing Hong Kong, Eco-Education and Resource Centre,Green Power, Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, Hong Kong Outdoors, Lantau Buffalo Association, The Conservancy Association, WWF – Hong Kong
Please go to the link below to sign the petition:
Here are our comments regarding the hawker management policy suggested by the government:
We support the proposed principles for Hong Kong’s hawker policy.
We urge for an additional principle together with Shop Extensions and Outdoor Seating Arrangements
We support the measures proposed by government
Hawker trade is not welfare
District led proposals should be promoted
If you want people to walk, you got to make sure they can sit. At first glance this appears a contradiction, but walkable cities need many places for people to sit.
People and especially elderly are willing to walk further and forego a vehicular trip if they know there is a place to rest half way. It also makes the city friendlier.
Well placed public seats allow people to relax. It creates opportunities for incidental encounters which are important for community building. It makes the city more accessible for people with disabilities.
So how far are you willing to walk? Ever wondered why there are not more seats around our city in public areas?