Hong Kong / Central Walkway System influenced by many forces
Driven by commercial interests, supported by government, and promoted by both of the groups, the Central elevated walkway system is a complex developed for half a century. It is now composed of government owned walkways and privately maintained walkways. Due to the different ownership and intentions of these walkways, there are also different ways of using them.
In the southwest part of the walkway system, there are mainly short span sky bridges connecting two commercial buildings owned by private groups. They are all enclosed, protecting pedestrians from the weather elements and providing them with a continuous and comfortable climate controlled spaces. As the intension is to stimulate consumption by linking retails and shopping malls together, the private owners actually consider less about the traffic flow capacity or the publicness of the bridges. Instead, they spend more effort on designing and decorating the walkways in a magnificent way. This leads to two main problems to the whole traffic situation in Central. Firstly, the limited widths of these walkways are challenged to accommodate pedestrians at peak hours. Secondly, the limited access and the invisible social hierarchy limit the connectivity with streets below and result in an internalized community.
Figure 1. Alexander House & Chapter House walkway Figure 2. Mandarin/Prince’s Building walkway
To improve the traffic flow capacity and standardize the elevated walkway system, in 1960s after the Mandarin/ Prince’s Building walkway was built, all the walkways were regulated in height to reside above the tramlines and the double decker buses at above five meters from the ground, and with a minimum passageway twelve-foot wide. The width regulation was instated to allow two groups of people to pass each other.
Figure 3&4. Central elevated walkway, open-air walkways
Figure 5. Edge conditions of the walkways Figure 6. Gathering locations of domestic helpers
For those built after 1970s, open-air walkways with bigger width became the dominant. Being capable of accommodating large masses of pedestrian use with 24-hour access, the unified system works as a comprehensive network and provides people with the feeling of connection with their surroundings. Nevertheless, the accessibility and the publicness of these walkways also leads to some problems, or say phenomena. On the Sundays, the walkways in Central are always occupied by crowds of Filipina domestic helpers, which is a common phenomenon happen in other public space in Central. This is because most of the Filipinas live with their employers, and are given a small sleeping space of approximately 1m². With limit private space and only one day off per week, crowds of Filipina domestic helpers come out and spend their time in public space on Sundays. Previously, they gathered on the ground level, including the ground floor of HSBC, Charter Road, and sections of Statue Square. After the elevated wide walkways are constructed, they gradually extended their space to part of these walkways. As shown in the diagrams, the gathering happens more on open-air walkways owned by the government. And at the junction where government owned walkway meets the private (Figure 7), there is an invisible boundary where the domestic helpers stop occupying space. Also, it is interesting to see that the columns in the middle of the walkways, which are designed to be the boundary for people flow from two directions, become the boundary of the pedestrian flow and gathering space.
Figure 7. Intersection of public and private Figure 8. division of space between groups
Through the years, this gathering seems to become a conventional custom. The security guards don’t force them to leave and people pass by without a second glance. The Filipina also form their own rules. Instead of one long continuous community, there are clear divisions of space between groups of domestic helpers, which is normally defined by cardboard boxes and mats. On Sundays, larger groups appear to gather in the same location, mostly near columns, while smaller groups then fill in the remaining spaces as needed, which form the vivid streetscape of the walkways in Central.
As written above, the Central elevated walkway system is influenced by mainly three forces, the government, commercial groups and the public. It is like an epitome of Hong Kong, an extremely compact city, where the government wants to make the most effective use of land while the private groups also strives for personal needs of space. To some extent, the best use of land and resources in Hong Kong is exactly achieved by the interaction of different groups, which is also regarded as abformal urbanism.
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