Pedestrianisation has been an important topic for both Colliers – as a leading player in the city’s property space, and myself – a 30-year industry veteran and a Hongkonger. That is why, for the past year, we have been staunch supporters for the NGO Walk DVRC Ltd. and the move towards turning Des Voeux Road Central (DVRC) into a traffic-free zone; which could help ease Hong Kong’s congestion and air pollution problems, as well as turn key urban areas into vibrant social and retail hubs.
As part of this move, Walk DVRC held a global competition to create a vision of what a pedestrianised Central could look like. To design something that brings back a little more life to an ageing district, while at the same time continue to drive Hong Kong’s goal to not only be a world class city, but a world class liveable city.
What’s the design, and why is it good?
The winning design comes from MLA+, Mobility in Chain and dmau – if you’d like to get a feel for it click here. The design is built around five different tram stops along DVRC, each one with an elevated platform and focused on a specific theme relevant to both Hong Kong as a city and its people. Neon Gateway focuses on the city’s culture and heritage, Green Oasis around green spaces, Cloud emphases the arts, Vertical Playground is all about sports and activity, and my favourite one – Western Market, is all about food. Think about it… Hong Kong’s landscape was built on neon signs and green country parks, it has a strong food culture that brings people together and a growing art scene, and sports and activity should be important to all. The design won because it understood the needs of the people, it captures the feeling of the city and delivers something that Hongkongers would want – even if they don’t know it yet.
The smart brilliance of the concept is around creating themes that are appropriate and relatable to Hong Kong and its visitors, while giving younger generations a connection to the city’s history and a more liveable environment. Another aspect is the creation of space, most of Hong Kong is based on small spaces – streets, apartments, shops, etc. and the city needs to provide access to more ‘free’ spaces that are fun and lively, or at least energising enough to bring back more life into the city.
I loved the concept for different reasons, firstly, because we can do it, secondly, it has the milestones to be put in place and thirdly, the opportunities to introduce something completely new. It has a balance between pedestrians at street level and those who spend time on the platforms, as well as the trams and the limited amount of traffic. The design has a holistic understanding of the space and the design limitations, while still substantially improving on the DVRC experience. Currently, DVRC is nowhere near a great experience. The high-end shops and shopping centres are great, but they are not unique or accessible enough, it is crowded, dirty and noisy. As one of the most densely populated spaces in the world we need to create different options and spaces, we need to show people a new experience and the opportunity to create something new that will enact change – change in people’s lives, in the retail-mix and our connection to the city.
What do we need to make this a reality?
Pedestrianisation and the realisation of this design is still something we must and continue to lobby for. What it is for now is a step towards something greater that aims to reduce traffic, increase walkability, and improve people’s lives. We know the challenges, but what we need is a timeline. A timeline with key milestones that will get us to the end goal and realise the dream. We already have a few milestones, including the Walk DVRC Sheung Wan Fiesta which aims to give people a taste of what pedestrianisation could be. One thing we do need is the support of the public, we need to sway their voices for the potential of the project and a better city.
We need to be more forward thinking. In a few years, sooner than we think 5G networks will be everywhere and the way the urban environment, transportation networks, and technology interact will be very different. Pedestrianisation and this winning design are great opportunities, but many constituents don’t want it because they are scared or concerned about the unknown. That’s what we are trying to do, we’re trying to get people to understand what they don’t know, to jump into something new and give pedestrianisation a chance.
We want to give the people something nice to look at and to enjoy, we want to show them the potential of this city to grow – and I think that’s a wonderful thing.
If you’re interested in knowing more about Walk DVRC and the winning design or would like to get involved check out their website. If you would like to know more about pedestrianisation – how It could happen and what are the opportunities, you can read one of my other opinion pieces, A pedestrian-friendly approach could transform key urban areas into vibrant social and retail hubs, or you could let me know and I’d be more than happy to catch up.