"What's the point of making a road look good if I can already walk on it? I don't own this road, why should I care?"
The concept of good walkability may be gaining ground around the world, but it is far from being universal. Bring the subject up in casual conversation and chances are that one will be met with cool indifference.
Such apathetic pragmatism is commonplace in many developed societies – and it is especially true in a city like Hong Kong. But would the same responses would be evoked if considering that improving pedestrian and walking amenities can boost average prices of real estate in an area by as much as £30,000?
Such are the findings of the urban planning team at Transport for London (TFL), the government body responsible for the transport system of Greater London, in the UK. In one case, property values in an area increased by a total of £9.5 million (over HK$10.5 million) as a result of wider pavements, planting of trees and enhanced lighting.
Closer to home, many other Asia Pacific countries have also enjoyed the economic benefits directly brought about by improving walkability. Japan is one of them. Tokyo's "Pedestrian Paradise" has been held in some form or fashion in the district of Ginza since 1970. The weekly event, which closes part of Chuo-dori to motor traffic on Saturdays, Sunday and public holiday afternoons, allows locals and tourists alike to stroll and shop in the streets in a car-free, noise-free, air pollution-free environment.
The walking-driven economy may not be universal, but it is fast becoming an international norm. As a world city, it is high time for Hong Kong to grasp the opportunity and adapt.
You are warmly invited to join a discussion at the 17th international Walk21 conference, hosted by Civic Exchange this October, which will see world-renowned scholars, civil society groups and top officials congregate to discuss how "pedestrian-first" environments can help drive economies.
Early bird registration is now open. For more details, visit http://walk21hk.com.