The Balance between Public and Private Interest in Central Elevated Walkway System

When the first pedestrian bridge which connects Prince’s Building and Mandarin Hotel was completed and became a success in 1960s, the elevated walkway became a practical approach of creating public space in the high-density context of Hong Kong. The footbridges function as a part of pedestrian circulation, separating people from automobiles and inviting people to the atriums of the malls. Meanwhile, they function as public space for recreational activities such as domestic helpers’ gathering. In the design process of the footbridge system, the interests of public and various shareholders are vital for the project to be completed.

During the construction, Hong Kong government mediates the conflicts between public and private interests. Since 1960s, building codes and regulations were carried out to  balance interests of different parties(Zheng& Xue, 2014).

For private developers, interest is the primary concern about creating public walkways within their properties. In order to convince private developers to involve in the elevated walkway system, Hong Kong government offers higher building allowance to buildings which give way to public space (Moir, 2002). Riva Remo of P & T Architects and Engineering Ltd., an architect who took part in the construction project of central elevated walkway system, claimed that extra 0.2 of plot ratio would be given as a bonus to buildings that involve in the elevated walkways. Consequently, the regulation effectively encouraged developers to join the elevated walkway system. For example, in 1980s, Standard Chartered Bank building joined the system in order to maximize the gross building area. A footbridge cut through the core of it to allow pedestrians to walk through the building. (Figure 1)

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Figure 1: Plan of Central showing the elevated pedestrian walkway linking Standard Charter Bank (source: P & T Architects & Engineers Ltd.)

Moreover, security is another issue which need to be considered. Security issues are inevitable since the footbridges are accessible 24 hours.  In response, the concept of privately owned public space was introduced by Hong Kong government in 1980s (Zheng& Xue, 2014). Therefore, the  government indicates that the owner of the properties can control the regulation and security of the footbridges as private space.

Although the elevated walkway system provides public space and serves pedestrian circulation, public interest give ways to private interest in many aspects. Remo suggested that the design of central elevated walkway was driven by profits rather than pedestrian oriented. Thus master plan is lacked in the elevated walkway system and pedestrians often feel like being a maze when they walkthrough the buildings. Also, stairs between the bridges and buildings can be inconvenient for the old and the handicapped. Furthermore, there are no benches or pedestrian amenities along the footbridges because shareholders as well as government tend to draw potential consumers rather than loiters to the malls (Rotmeyer, 2010).

In conclusion, during the construction of central elevated walkway system, Hong Kong government carried regulations and building codes to coordinate public and private interests, and the regulations are crucial for the system to be completed. However, the main focus of the footbridges is commercial, hence there are critics about the system not being pedestrian-friendly. From the perspective of public interest, the master plan of pedestrian circulation can be amended and facilities  designed for pedestrians can be further developed. 

Reference List:

1. Moir, N. “The Commercialisation of Open Space and Street Life in Central District” . (2002). http://www.civic-exchange.org

2. Juliana Rotmeyer. “Publicness of elevated public space in Central, Hong Kong : An inquiry into the publicness of elevated pedestrian walkway systems as places and non-places” (PhD diss., University of Hong Kong, 2010).

3. Zheng Tan & Charlie Q.L. Xue. “Walking as a Planned Activity: Elevated Pedestrian Network and Urban Design Regulation in Hong Kong”. Journal of Urban Design. (2014) 19:5, 722-744 DOI: 10.1080/13574809.2014.946895

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