You’ve heard of road rage, but increasingly in Hong Kong, people are dealing with the frustrations of pedestrian rage. Streets in the city are often overcrowded, with the narrow footpaths built decades ago simply not wide enough to contain the throngs of a growing population. But help is on the way, and change is afoot.
One of the most congested roads in the Central Business District is Des Voeux Road Central (DVRC), and it’s along this key stretch of road that Walk DVRC seek to remove traffic lanes and make this bit of city a walkable and liveable neighborhood that celebrates its heritage past.
A Welcome Space That Draws People In
What’s now a congested road used to be a grand water-facing promenade. Known as the Praya, it was where dried seafood vendors, traditional costume shops and Chinese entrepreneurship flourished. As Hong Kong’s land reclamation projects edged further into the harbor, the road then known as Praya became Des Voeux Road Central. Now, it’s mostly a thoroughfare and not a place you want to hang around in for long. Tall buildings on either side create a pit of pollution and frustratingly, traffic is slow. Vehicles creep along DVRC at 10km per hour, barely faster than walking.
“Sheung Wan is an integral part of the history of Chinese entrepreneurship in the early days of Hong Kong. It is of significant value how the historic trades like dried seafood, bespoke shoe-making and stamp carving have continued to strive alongside the large-scale local and international companies in the Central Business District.” — Markus Shaw, Board Chairman of Walk DVRC.
For decades now, architects and urban planners have bemoaned the lack of modernization to the DVRC’s infrastructure. In 2017 Markus Shaw formed Walk DVRC Ltd., an NGO advocating for a liveable Central Business District with the aims of making DVRC a pedestrianized zone. Through researching and by engaging with the public, government and property developers in the area, the project is gaining momentum.
Fewer Drivers and More Walkers
A Place to Walk
Despite its extensive, good-quality public transport system, Hong Kong has yet to make a shift away from car-oriented urban planning to a people-friendly one. To emphasize this bias, jaywalking incurs a higher fine than speeding! Meanwhile, pedestrians cram into narrow footpaths, squeezed between fences like cattle, often spilling onto the street to pass one another as there simply isn’t enough space for them all. Our staff writer Jess Ng attests that the worst is during the weekday lunch time rush: “they block up the pathways queuing for a restaurant, and take up all the pavement space!”
Instead of encouraging more cars and higher pollution, let’s give back the power to pedestrians. Walk DVRC propose removing three lanes of vehicular traffic to make more room for pedestrian maneuverability, while “one lane would be kept open for deliveries and emergency vehicle services.” In doing so, with wider pavements and more spaces for shade and greenery, this busy spot could be a place of fresh air.
The Proof Is Already There
The idea of closing down a main thoroughfare in Hong Kong for pedestrians may seem odd, but it’s been done before. In September 2014, protesters behind the Umbrella Movement shut down major roads in Central, with traffic grinding to a halt. Pollution measures usually reading “high” all dropped to “low” thanks to the steep fall in levels of nitrogen oxide. By blocking roads, the protesters showed a glimpse of a Hong Kong with better quality air levels. Not only that, but the way they used the open spaces to be creative showed too how DVRC could transform community, bring foot traffic to the area and boost business.
Businesses Like The Idea
The bus and tram companies love the idea of a pedestrian-friendly zone, already working with Walk DVRC’s team of architects to plan new bus routes that would avoid the 1.4km stretch of road. The DVRC project would be a key connection point between other spaces in the area too, like the recently developed Tai Kwun art gallery and public space. By turning the area into a destination, rather than a road, the DVRC project would also be a draw to younger generations in the same way revitalization projects like HK Walls attract crowds, tourists and boost business. Could all shop keepers be convinced that the change is a positive one?
Sheung Wan Fiesta
The next stage in the plan is to show how a pedestrianized zone would really work. The Sheung Wan Fiesta is a proposed 90-day trial closing off a 100-meter stretch of DVRC — taking the whole three months will make a real impact to prove how the project works in the long term.
“Through the Sheung Wan Fiesta, we will demonstrate that the decaying part of the city can have a renewed vigor by giving the space back to the makers of the local cultural and heritage — who are the local traders and craft businesses as well as the community. The success of the Fiesta will pave way for a full-blown iconic world-class open space, which is what the Walk DVRC project has been endeavoring to achieve” said Walk DVRC CEO Jennifer Frisinger.
Designs for DVRC
An international design competition called for urban planners, architects and traffic consultants to pull their expertise together and showcase the possibilities for a car-free zone that revitalizes the heritage of the space and successfully facilitates social interactions. The winners selected were MLA+, Mobility in Chain and dmau. A roving exhibition showcasing the winning designs along with finalists’ entries will move around to different parts of Hong Kong in the next few months.
Walk DVRC International Design Competition Roving Exhibition
Date: Now – 29/5/2019
Time: 8:00 – 22:00
Location: H6 CONET, G/F, The Center, 99 Queens Road Central, Hong Kong
We can’t wait to see how the Sheung Wan Fiesta takes shape. For Hong Kong to take on such a great revitalization project shows great promise in the growth and development of a sustainable pollution-free city! To stay on top of news make sure to check out Walk DVRC’s website and subscribe to the NONAGON.style newsletter.