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Hong Kong’s colorful new ‘pocket parks’ are revitalizing public spaces

Written by Rebecca Cairns, CNN

Contributors Dan Hodge, Lauren Lau

Bright pink and dotted with octagonal stools, Portland Street Rest Garden is an Instagrammer’s dream. But this park, tucked between two high-rises on a busy Hong Kong street, doesn’t have many photo influencers: instead, local retirees play checkers on a board game England, while elderly neighbors chatted on pink benches, purple grass swaying in the planters behind.

While 75% of Hong Kong’s territory, consisting of more than 200 islands, made up of lush jungle and country parks, urban Hong Kong is sorely lacking in space. Its inhabitants are just 2.7 square meters (29.1 square feet) of public space per person, according to the nonprofit Civic Exchange – compared with 5.8-7.6 square meters (62.4 to 81.8 square feet) per occupant other crowded Asian cities such as Singapore, Tokyo and Shanghai. There is a correlation between access to nature and good mental health, with people living closer to public open spaces Report less worry than those who live further away.
Designers have split Portland Street Rest Garden down the middle, restoring one side to a 1980s parkland style, while the other is bright pink.

Designers have split Portland Street Rest Garden down the middle, restoring one side to a 1980s parkland style, while the other is bright pink. Credit: Trust the design

As a result, parks like the one on Portland Street can offer their draw from the compact towers most people live in.

Its eye-catching design is the result of innovation by the Design Trust, a nonprofit that supports design-based programs. Marisa Yiu, co-founder and chief executive officer of the Design Trust, says the organization has redesigned four of the city’s micro-parks in an effort to create a “macro transition” to space. public.

Contrary to the other parks in the city, many of which have a similar, generic look – neutral brick or concrete slabs, fenced greenery and benches – the Design Trust wanted to break. stereotypes, by creating distinctive designs that can showcase the “unique stories” of the community.

Working together with the Department of Cultural and Recreation Services (LCSD), the governing body of public parks in Hong Kong, four different groups came up with the concept of redesigning micro-parks. On Portland Street, the redesign increased seating capacity from 16 to 81 and greenery by 26%.

Play is for everyone

Design ideas for the parks were created in 2018, but the pandemic meant that LCSD and the Department of Architectural Services didn’t begin construction until 2021. The project was called “Play is for fun.” for everyone”, revolves around fun.

“Any age can play the game, whether it’s adults playing chess or children running around,” Yiu said.

The team behind Yi Pei square, at the park.  From left: Kay Chan, Stephen Ip, Jonathan Mak, Christopher Choi and Design Trust founder Marisa Yiu.

The team behind Yi Pei square, at the park. From left: Kay Chan, Stephen Ip, Jonathan Mak, Christopher Choi and Design Trust founder Marisa Yiu. Credit: Trust the design

And the real fun is at the heart of the project’s first park, Yi Pei Square, in Tsuen Wan, which opens in April 2021. The long, thin courtyard is surrounded by apartment blocks and is a paved area, mainly used as a walkway. But the Design Trust turned the 930 square meter (10,010 square foot) site into a “common living room” with play areas, exercise areas and benches.

Participation in the community is an important part of the process. Creating prototypes of various elements of the park, the team held exhibitions in the co-working space and mall to test their ideas and engage residents in feedback sessions. , where children suggested games and the shape and size of playground structures, like the slide that was enlarged to allow them to race down two at a time. “Designers have learned a lot about how people live,” says Yiu. “What you see now in Yi Pei Square is made by the community.”

At the Portland Street park, which opens in September 2021, the design team wanted to modernize the site while highlighting the history of the area.

To balance out the bold colors, the team decided to split the 376 square meter (4,047 square foot) park in half with a zig-zag in the center: while one side is Barbie pink, the other is restored restore. looks like a typical Hong Kong getaway from the 1980s, complete with hexagonal geometry, bamboo and shaded seating areas.

For the designers, pink is the perfect choice to revitalize the park: it inspires joy and compassion, and contrasts with the green of the foliage, to create an atmosphere. vibrant yet relaxing, says Yiu.

“Designers have been empowered by this color so it makes a lot of sense,” she added.

The design of Portland Street Rest Garden is now split in two, showing the restored old style and the new, modern pink design.

The design of Portland Street Rest Garden is now split in two, showing the restored old style and the new, modern pink design. Credit: Trust the design

Many residents agree. Now in his seventies, Mr. Kong, who did not give his name, has lived in the neighborhood for decades and visits the park daily: he likes the new layout of the park and says it is cleaner. before. Peter, in his sixties, eats lunch there most days. He said he’s grateful for these little parks, because they give people space outside of their homes.

Lack of space

Coming up with new ideas for how to design public spaces can be challenging. Some of the examples Yiu points to across the city – such as benches and barricades, or in steep corners – may actually discourage people from lounging or relaxing, adding that it takes time. to convince planners to embrace more flexible spaces, such as barrier-free benches, or movable furniture.

From left to right: Design Trust co-founder and chief executive officer, Marisa Yiu, and Ricky Lai, Kam Fai Hung and Xavier Tsang, the people on the design team behind Portland Street Rest Garden.

From left to right: Design Trust co-founder and chief executive officer, Marisa Yiu, and Ricky Lai, Kam Fai Hung and Xavier Tsang, the people on the design team behind Portland Street Rest Garden. Credit: Trust the design

And the teams are constantly learning from how the parks are being used and adapting their current and future designs accordingly. In Portland Street, for example, the furniture has chipped paint. Now, the Design Trust is exploring paints and coatings that are more resilient. “These are things you can’t do without trial and error,” Yiu said.

The Design Trust isn’t the only organization to get creative with Hong Kong’s limited space. In May 2022, the city’s first rooftop skate park opened at the HANDS mall in Tuen Mun, along with an existing rooftop basketball court designed by One Bite Studio. Other basketball courts around the city are also decked out with colorful designs, including the Shek Lei Grind Court, which uses 20,000 pairs of recycled Nike sneakers for its rubber surface.

The government has given the green light for further rejuvenation 170 parks and playgrounds in a five-year project. Although this will not be partnered with HKDT, Yiu says the micropark pilot has helped “mobilize and accelerate” the new policy. An LCSD spokesperson said that the innovative designs will make the parks more attractive, and along with projects such as the inclusive playground being built at Tuen Mun Park, the experience and process of designing Design from the micro-park pilot will help “make the transition to space public play.”
Yi Pei Square has both a play space for children, an exercise area for the elderly and an area for socializing and gathering.

Yi Pei Square has both a play space for children, an exercise area for the elderly and an area for socializing and gathering. Credit: Trust the design

Heritage through design

The Design Trust’s third park, Hamilton Street in Yau Ma Tei, will open in October, while the fourth will open later this year. The design team for Hamilton Park is commemorating the area’s rich history of craftsmanship.

Home to historic buildings and temples, the area is filled with master craftsmen, whose businesses have existed for generations. The Design Trust commissioned them to produce the park’s elements, such as brass lighting fixtures, as well as signage made from special cutting boards commonly found in butcher shops around the city.

“It presents opportunities for designers, but it also (sparks) neighborhood transformation.”

Marisa Yiu, founder of Hong Kong Design Trust

The preservation of an ancient banyan tree on the edge of the park is another look into the past, while a large table in the center of the park serves as a focal point for the community to gather.

According to Yiu, the cost of each park is about the same as per square meter compared to conventional parks elsewhere around the city – with the exception of Yi Pei Square, which has received some additional funding.

She hopes that these prototype pocket parks will inspire cities to think more creatively about public space design and step away from the “cookie-cutting recipe.”

“We don’t want 20,000 pink parks,” Yiu said. “The Design Trust is really looking at Hong Kong’s heritage, the challenges in the park’s landscape, as well as health and well-being, and a sustainable future. Each park has a different way of getting involved. Everyone gets involved. Everyone has a cultural responsibility to participate.”

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