Vehicles and more vehicles, flanked by a sea of tourists jostling for space on crowded pavements in a dense, urban canyon – it makes for a chaotic scene. But this is an accurate portrayal of the Tsim Sha Tsui district, one of Hong Kong’s most popular tourist destinations.
Haiphong Road and Peking Road are the two principal corridors used by pedestrians to get to the commercial developments on either side of the Tsim Sha Tsui. Perpendicular to the district’s two main vehicular arteries, Canton Road lies to the west and Nathan Road to the east. In the year 2000, Hong Kong’s Transport Department implemented schemes to enhance the pedestrian environment and safety in these two corridors by turning them into “traffic calming streets” – essentially widening and improving their footpaths, slowing vehicular traffic and reducing on-street parking, all in a bid to improve the level of pedestrian comfort to attract more visitors.
Streets are the supporting structure of every town plan. From an urban planning perspective, improving streets can turn them into ideal places for leisure, recreation and social activities. Because streets reflect so much of the regional, local and cultural characteristics of a city, the urban paths of the areas they cut through can serve as must-visit landmarks for tourists and residents alike.
Many world cities have taken steps to improve or revitalise their prized public thoroughfares, giving them a second life and a functionality other than merely channelling traffic. The city of Sydney, Australia, for example, spent AUD 50 million on a programme to beautify and light up the city’s footpaths. This was undertaken to increase their aesthetic and functional appeal over the course of ten years. Some of these initiatives included replacing ageing asphalt streets with granite paving, new LED street lighting systems, stylish street furniture and implementing pedestrianisation schemes to encourage more walking and outdoor dining.
Another example of how cities are recognizing the need for walkable streets can be found at the Cologne Cathedral. Located in the namesake North Rhine-Westphalian German city, the medieval cathedral barely survived the heavy damage it suffered during World War II. Rapid economic growth that followed in the decades after put the monument at constant danger from urban sprawl and development. Though listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, it found itself on the World Heritage Danger List eight years later due to plans for the construction of a nearby high-rise. It was removed from the danger list two years later after the authorities agreed to limit the height of buildings constructed around the cathedral, while surrounding the monument it with pedestrian areas, providing it with an appropriate buffer zone.
The walkable environment surrounding the Cologne Cathedral has helped boost the site’s appeal and maintain its status as one of the country’s most visited tourist landmarks. These are all valuable lessons in “people first” urban planning that Hong Kong could learn from to improve its own pedestrian environments. Civic Exchange believes walkability can greatly enhance Hong Kong’s tourism industry, one of the city’s key economic pillars, among other benefits. But the current planning ethos adopted in Hong Kong is to ensure the flow of smooth and unobstructed road traffic rather than puting pedestrians first, a rather simplistic way of thinking that does not realise a street’s full potential in improving a city’s quality of life.
Promoting pedestrian-friendly streets in tourist areas may sound like a major task, but a government can approach it one small step at a time. They can start, for example, by making information on road markers and direction signs clear and easy to understand. Signage should be uniform across an area to avoid confusing and misleading tourists and ensuring that they are getting a positive shopping and pedestrian experience.
To learn more about out how walking can improve tourism, join the discussion at the Walk21 Hong Kong Conference – Walking and Liveable Communities ,on 3-7 October, the first time this international event will be held in Asia, and co-organised by Civic Exchange. Over the five day event, world-renowned scholars, civil society groups and top officials will to discuss how "pedestrian-first" environments can enhance the tourism experience and grow the industry in volume and quality, among many other walking-related topics.
We hope you have enjoyed this guest article published on behalf of Civic Exchange and the Walk21Hk Hong Kong Conference, for which Ecozine is a proud media partner. For more details, visit http://walk21hk..com