Planning Strategies to Overcome Constraints on Greenspace Provision in Urban Hong Kong

Article excerpt

Hong Kong carries a legacy of an excessively compact urban form with scant room for amenity vegetation. Topographical restrictions and development configuration have nurtured a mentality of apathy towards city greening. Public greenspaces are concentrated in a few urban parks with limited plant coverage and few roads have trees. Woodlands are not preserved in the urbanised areas. Private developers have little statutory obligation or willingness to provide public open spaces. Natural vegetation is often poorly protected or obliterated in new developments and redevelopment schemes. Existing planning measures are ineffective in creating or keeping greenspace. The planning authority has limited means or will to restructure restricted town plans to introduce greenery. Statutory and administrative frameworks need to be overhauled to facilitate greenspaces of appropriate pattern, distribution and quality. Planning could play a proactive role to help formulate and coordinate a 'green-city' action plan to bring long-term improvement.

To many people, greening urbanised areas is an endeavour of wide appeal and prevalence. Different cities encounter common and unique constraints. Greening requires introducing natural elements into the largely cultural fabric of cities. Nature and culture, however, make an enigmatic pair in the history of urbanisation. It is from nature that humans obtained sustenance and inspiration to develop our culture. Yet upon acquiring culture, in characteristic human fashion, we ungratefully began to despise, discipline and damage nature. Cities have an extreme preponderance of culture over nature, and sometimes nature is virtually excluded. We subsequently regretted our excesses, came round full circle and reintroduced nature into urban areas. We embrace the notable emblems of natureDamenity vegetationDin our somewhat feeble attempts to re-establish our tenuous link with nature. The most intense battles were fought in cities and Hong Kong, by design or by default, has regrettably developed into one of the world's least natural examples.

A city generously endowed with high-quality greenery is a necessary ingredient of environmental quality and quality of life. The amenity, environmental and socio-economic benefits of urban vegetation are firmly recognised (McPherson et al., 1997; Nowak and Dwyer, 2000; Stone and Rodgers, 2001). City administrations try to augment this essential and warmly welcome component. The quantity, composition and style of urban greenery tend to vary spatially and temporally (Attorre et al., 2000). Many regard the preservation and introduction of greenery as fulfilling an indispensable urban infrastructure requirement. The ratio of artificial to natural coverage in cities has been employed as a synoptic yardstick of environmental well-being (Arnold and Gibbons, 1996). In our earnest desire to improve urban environmental quality, Hong Kong could adopt a twin approach-abating the negative aspects and augmenting the positive elements, notably greenery.

Within and beyond the Hong Kong administration, the grave lack of amenity vegetation in the city is increasingly recognised, generating earnest calls to maintain and enhance urban greenery (Duvernoy, 1995). The issue by necessity has to be tackled from the perspectives of different disciplines and professions. The work agents (namely landscape architects, urban horticulturists, arboriculturists and urban foresters) could join planners to contribute collectively. The fundamental constraint to greening urban Hong Kong is the dearth of suitable habitats. Recent acceleration of tree-planting programmes has exhausted the potential planting sites incorporated in a Rve-year greening plan (Jim, 1994a). Future greening efforts will need new planting sites, which are not readily forthcoming. Present legal and administrative regimes provide little chance of greenery penetration into allocated (leased) lots. Current development and redevelopment mechanisms have no means statutorily to designate greenspace within lots. …