All About Green

Urban Park Naturalisation

Oct 2020
Author: Green Power
A country pavilion paved with natural stone and upcycled with waste wood
The design and materials of leisure facilities in country parks better integrate with nature.

Hong Kong is proud to have a considerable area of urban park, albeit they are scattered around different corners of the territory. Considering only those managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, there are 43 medium and large size urban parks and waterfront promenades occupying a total area of 322 hectares, equivalent to 1.3-times the area of Cheung Chau. However, when we take a look at urban parks in other places worldwide, many of them are becoming more natural and ecologically friendly, compared to the rather "artificial" ones in Hong Kong.

Ecologically, urban parks may not be comparable to country parks. Nonetheless, their location in the city allow them to turn into “oases” for a variety of wild animals. For example, in Kowloon Park, over 70 wild bird species have been recorded, including some migratory birds that stay briefly here. Hong Kong Park is even renowned as being home to the second largest community of wild Yellow-crested Cockatoos ( Cacatua sulphurea ) in the world.

A local survey conducted in 2018 on public expectations regarding leisure grounds (including urban parks) indicated that 45% and 35% of the respondents hope to see more grassland for leisure use and more trees and shrubs planted, respectively. The general consensus is to have more green spaces in urban parks.

Globally, the overall trend is towards the creation of more natural and ecologically friendly urban parks, raising the concept of "natural ecology parks". In the U.S., for instance, wild animal reserves are set up inside the parks to attract migratory birds, and these become bird-watching hotspots for the public. In Taiwan, the use of cement is being gradually reduced, and more grassland and natural soil paths are retained, and trees are used to replace artificial kiosks. In Japan, some areas of parks are kept in their original natural state, and human management is reduced to a minimum. Visitors may enjoy the experience of natural forest in such areas.

An urban park with concrete paving and footpaths
The "human-centered" management approach makes urban parks overly artificial.

Looking back at the urban parks in Hong Kong, we will find a very different "human-centered" management approach: well-pruned vegetation, fitness and recreational facilities, overly tidy concrete walkways … all turn the parks into artificial landscapes. When it comes to urban park management, Hong Kong obviously lags far behind other places around the world.

On the other hand, country parks under the management of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department are more "natural" than urban parks; albeit the leisure, fitness and recreational facilities are similar. Apart from environmental factors, the management philosophy is what makes the big difference. Leisure facilities in country parks integrate better with nature, keeping more grassland and soil intact. Natural stone materials are used for ground covering and waste wood is collected and up-cycled into park facilities. In addition, pruning is kept to a minimum, to allow free growth of the plants. Pest control is based mainly on natural enemies to keep balance in nature, reducing reliance on pesticides. More native plants are cultivated to attract native wild animals… These are all good measures that urban parks can take as examples.

A more natural urban park provides a better home for city animals and brings numerous benefits for people as well. In Hong Kong, the tightly packed high-rise buildings make heat dispersion difficult and often create a heat-island effect, which becomes worse when heatwaves hit in summer time, escalating the public health risk of heat stroke and exhaustion. Increasing urban greenery is one way to alleviate the heat-island effect; however, it is not easy to increase the green area in our crowded urban environment. Urban parks have the potential to increase green surfaces, which might be one of the effective measures in combating the ever-hotter Hong Kong summers.