Press: Could Des Voeux Road really go green?

Press: Could Des Voeux Road really go green?

Timeout If strolling along grass down the middle of Des Voeux Road sounds impossible, then think again. It’s a stretch of road right in the heart of Hong Kong’s congested business district but with Occupy Central proving it’s possible to completely pedestrianise Des Voeux Road between the Western Market and World Wide House, who’s to say we can’t make the whole road a glistening oasis of calm? It was first proposed back in 2000 by urban planners, but ‘the beginning of the beginning’ for the zone came just last month on September 21, when a panel discussion took place at Asia Society Centre, marking the launch of the official Des Voeux Road Central Initiative. Moderator Aric Chen, curator for design and architecture at M+ explains that the initiative is ‘a coalition of various non-profit groups and entities across the environmental sector, the property sector, commercial and civically minded entities to push forward [the] plan.’ Five panel members – Jeffrey Johnson (Studio-X), Amale Andraos (Dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation), Donald Choi (Managing Director of Nan Fung Development), Eric Schuldenfrei (founding partner of ESKYIU) and councillor Paul Zimmerman (CEO of Designing Hong Kong) debated the logistics, difficulties and possibilities for the pedestrianisation project, comparing it to others around the world including the New York Highline and Times Square. Critic and curator of design and architecture Aric Chen moderated the panel. The Plan: “We want to expand the way we think of this offer to go beyond air quality and traffic, to really look at quality of life and public realm in Hong Kong,” says Chen. “The potential for creativity and urban innovation and to ask the question about what kind of city Hong Kong wants to be? Whether it is one that is technocratic, creating technocratically charged spaces or one that can look beyond that to become more innovative and people-centric.” Johnson enthusing,“We feel it has the potential to become a landmark in the new history of Hong Kong and public space.” The initiative launched in collaboration with the Faculty of Architecture at HKU and Colombia University, with Johnson describing the aim to divide the road into six zones, with six different concepts along it. “The idea [consists of] a playground (providing interaction and public enjoyment within the street itself, a canopy (an oasis within a concrete jungle, as a respite from the chaos of the city), a public theatre (of action on the street, a carnival or spectacle), a galleria (the idea of an indoor and outdoor space available 24 hours a day) and an art-scape (driven culturally and curated).” Andranos supported this creative idealism by stating, ‘with students nothing is impossible, and the school is bringing up some real questions to be explored.’ Eric then expressed his excitement for the road, with “the city that we inherit” becoming the “city that we change too.” Questioning how preservation or conservation is done in HK and “whether it can only be done in that way.” The two professors of architecture expressed their aim to use green technologies as a “more intelligent way of thinking about design, not only in public space but also thinking about a more sustainable future.” “Over 75% of HK is green space,” points out Chen. “[But much of it] is a little bit out of reach”. Zimmerman claims the DVRC could become ‘the pedestrian corridor’ that allows busy-urbanites to enjoy nature and green space too. Thinking pragmatically: Then the discussion turned pragmatic with Zimmerman worrying about ‘private-public partnership’ and how the space is going to be arranged. ‘That’s what the problem was with the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade….How do you make it a private-people-public initiative?” ‘ Businessman Donald Choi answered this saying, ‘we must engage all the stakeholders,’ as from a ‘commercial point of view…[it would] make a place that is enjoyable for shoppers or visitors to come. It will generate a lot of interest and attraction, not only for the tourists but also from the locals and residents and users.’ Emma Russell