A Travel Blog By: Chris Chavez
I just returned from a trip to Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated cities in the world. With a population of over 7 million residents squeezed into 426 square miles, Hong Kong faces many planning challenges. Despite the density, I found great examples of park space, sustainability and efficient commuting.
I stayed at a hotel in a popular tourist district of Hong Kong, Tsim Sha Tsui, best described as a collection of skyscrapers. Nearby, amidst all the vertical buildings and the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle, I found Kowloon Park. As one of the largest parks in Kowloon, the park covers an area of about 33 acres and is known as the “green lung” at the center of the city. Some of the highlights of the park include the “Avenue of Comic Stars,” a lake with exotic birds, a maze garden, sculpture walk, sports center and a swimming pool that can hold 1,500 people. I noticed the park had many access points and therefore good connectivity throughout the city streets. I also appreciated the absence of feral cats, chickens and homeless people, common fixtures in Hawai‘i’s parks. This area is clean and well-maintained, a place of refuge in an immense city where you can enjoy peace and tranquility. According to Hong Kong’s Planning Department guidelines, there is at least one park in each new town in the New Territories and more than 90% of the territorial population is living within a radius of 400 meters of various types of open spaces (including County Parks and Special Areas). This is a remarkable amount of open space for such a dense city. Furthermore, the parks located in the urban area are generally within 10 minutes walking distance from the MTR stations/public transport terminals and are easily accessible by the public.
Another beacon of light that I found in Hong Kong’s struggle for sustainability was the Zero Carbon Building or ZCB, another great oasis from the city bustle. With its eco-plaza, urban native woodland, eco-paving and seating this new building supports Hong Kong Government’s (very ambitious) proposed goal of 50-60% Carbon Intensity Reduction by 2020. Buildings account for up to 90% of the electricity consumed in Hong Kong and are responsible for 60% greenhouse gases produced there. The 3-story Zero Carbon Building has an indoor exhibition and education area, a showcase eco-home and eco-offices. The building’s orientation takes advantage of natural air and lighting. ZCB is powered by the rooftop solar panels that export excess energy to the local grid Biofuel is also used as a renewable energy source and is produced from used cooking oil collected at local restaurants. This, “state-of-the art eco-building is showcased locally and internationally to raise awareness of the goal of low carbon living in Hong Kong.” ZCB has won recognition and awards and is one of the first buildings in Hong Kong to receive a Platinum BEAM Plus rating from Hong Kong’s green building council, the Hong Kong Green Building Council Limited. In addition, ZBC received the highest rating for excellent building environmental performance. I couldn’t help daydreaming about the potential that Hawai‘i has for buildings like ZCB with our year-round sunlight to harness, not to mention the gallons of potential biofuel produced by local restaurants.
One thing I noticed right away when I was trying to get around, is that Hong Kong isn’t very bike-friendly. There aren’t many bike lanes downtown, or many places to park a bike. Chaining a bike to anything that isn’t designated bike parking results in confiscation. Roads are narrow and crowded and biking is not a well accepted form of transport in Hong Kong. Most people get around on the Mass Transit Railway (MTR), the most common mode of public transport for residents of Hong Kong who make almost 5 million trips on an average weekday. The metro connects you quickly and efficiently throughout the city, and even to and from the airport. MTR is rated as one of the most profitable and best-run metros in the world, with a 99.9% on-time rate and my personal favorite…free WiFi. I hope that Honolulu’s new rail system, HART, will mimic MTR’s operations and efficiency.
Chris Chavez is a Graphic Designer with design experience in Urban Planning and Landscape Architecture. His approach to design is edgy and contemporary with the use of photography, illustration, and typography.