Hong Kong’s new colorful ‘pocket parks’ are revitalizing public spaces


Written by the author Rebecca Cairns, CNN

Helpers Dan Hodge, Lauren Lau

Bright pink and scattered with octagonal stools, the Portland Street Rest Garden is an Instagramer’s dream. But this park, nestled between two high-rises on a busy Hong Kong street, isn’t full of influencers posing for photos: instead, local retirees play checkers, and elderly neighbors gossip in pink chairs, swinging purple grass. . in the back gardens.

Although 75% of Hong Kong’s territory, which includes more than 200 islands, is made up of lush rainforests and country parks, Hong Kong lacks urban space. Local residents have just 2.7 square meters (29.1 square feet) of public space per person, according to the non-profit think tank Civic Exchange – 5.8 to 7.6 square meters (62.4 to 81.8 square feet) per person, such as in other dense Asian metropolises. Singapore, Tokyo and Shanghai. There is a correlation between access to nature and good mental health, with people living closer to public open spaces reporting less anxiety than those living further away.

The designers split the Portland Street Rest Garden in half, restoring one side to the style of a 1980s park, and giving the other a bright pink look. Credit: Design Trust

Portland Street’s parks can therefore offer a respite from the dense high-rises where most people live.

Its eye-catching design is the result of a makeover by the Design Trust, a nonprofit that supports design-based programs. The organization is redesigning four micro parks in the city with the aim of “macro transformation” in public space, said Design Trust co-founder and executive director Marisa Yiu.

Unlike other parks in the city, many of which have the same generic look – neutral tiles or concrete slabs, fenced green spaces and single-seat benches – the Design Trust wanted to break the mold, creating different designs. showing the “unique stories” of communities.

Working together with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), which manages Hong Kong’s public parks, four different teams conceptualized the redesign of the micro-parks. On Portland Street, the redesign increased the seating capacity from 16 to 81 people, and the green space by 26%.

The game is for the people

Park design concepts were created in 2018, but the pandemic prevented LCSD and the Department of Architectural Services from starting construction until 2021. The project called “Play is for the people” focused on fun.

“The game should be accessible to all ages, whether it’s adults playing chess or kids running,” Yiu said.

The group behind Yi Pei Square, in the park.  From left to right: Kay Chan, Stephen Ip, Jonathan Mak, Christopher Choi and Design Trust founder Marisa Yiu.

The group behind Yi Pei Square, in the park. From left to right: Kay Chan, Stephen Ip, Jonathan Mak, Christopher Choi and Design Trust founder Marisa Yiu. Credit: Design Trust

And the game is, in fact, at the center of the project’s first park, Yi Pei Square, Tsuen Wan, which opened in April 2021. The long thin courtyard is surrounded by blocks of flats and was a paved area that was mostly used as a pedestrian walkway. But the Design Trust transformed the 930-square-metre (10,010-square-foot) space into a “common living room” with play areas, exercise areas and benches.

A key part of the process was community involvement. Prototyping the various elements of the park, the team held exhibitions at co-working spaces and malls to test their ideas and engaged residents in feedback sessions where children suggested games and the shape and size of the playground structures, which unfolded like the slide. to be able to run two races at the same time. “Designers learned a lot about how people live,” Yiu said. “What you see now in Yi Pei Square is created by the community.”

At Portland Street Park, which opened in September 2021, the design team sought to modernize the site while highlighting the area’s history.

To balance the bold color, the team decided to split the 376-square-meter (4,047-square-foot) park in half with a zigzag line down the middle: while one side is Barbie-pink, the other is restored. Having the appearance of a typical 1980s Hong Kong leisure garden with hexagonal geometry, bamboo and shaded seating.

For the designers, pink was the perfect choice to revitalize the park: it evokes joy and compassion, and contrasts with the greenery of the foliage to create a lively yet calming atmosphere, Yiu said.

“The designers were so empowered by this color that it only made sense,” he added.

The Portland Street Rest Garden is now cut in two, showing the old, restored style and the new, modern pink design.

The Portland Street Rest Garden is now cut in two, showing the old, restored style and the new, modern pink design. Credit: Design Trust

Many residents agree. Now in his seventies, Mr Kong, who did not give his name, has lived in the neighborhood for decades and visits the park every day: he likes the new layout of the park and says it is cleaner than before. Peter, who is in his sixties, eats lunch there most days. He says he appreciates these little parks, because they gave people a place outside their homes.

Little space

Bringing new ideas to design public spaces can be a challenge. Some of the examples Yiu finds around the city — such as seats and chairs with obstructions or at slanted angles — can discourage people from resting or relaxing, and he adds that it took time to convince planners to include more flexible spaces, such as benches. without obstacles or movable furniture.

From left to right: Design Trust co-founder and executive director, Marisa Yiu, and members of the design team behind the Portland Street Rest Garden, Ricky Lai, Kam Fai Hung and Xavier Tsang.

From left to right: Design Trust co-founder and executive director, Marisa Yiu, and members of the design team behind the Portland Street Rest Garden, Ricky Lai, Kam Fai Hung and Xavier Tsang. Credit: Design Trust

And teams are constantly learning how parks are used, and adapting their current and future designs accordingly. For example, on Portland Street, tables and chairs have suffered paint chips. Now, the Design Trust is looking at more resilient paint and coating materials. “Those are the things you can’t do without trying and trial and error,” Yiu said.

The Design Trust is not the only organization in Hong Kong getting creative with limited space. In May 2022, the city’s first rooftop skatepark opened at the HANDS shopping center in Tuen Mun, alongside a rooftop basketball court designed by One Bite Studio. Other basketball courts in the city have also been decorated with colorful designs, including the Shek Lei Grind Court, which used 20,000 pairs of recycled Nike shoes for the rubber surface.

The government has given the green light to a five-year project to rejuvenate another 170 parks and playgrounds. Although this will not be in collaboration with the HKDT, Yiu said the micropark pilot has helped “mobilize and accelerate” the new policy. The LCSD spokesperson said innovative designs will make parks more attractive, and along with projects like an inclusive playground built at Tuen Mun Park, the experience and design process of the micropark pilot will “help realize the transformation of public play.” spaces”.
Yi Pei Square has a place for children to play, as well as an exercise area for the elderly and areas for socializing and gathering.

Yi Pei Square has a place for children to play, as well as an exercise area for the elderly and areas for socializing and gathering. Credit: Design Trust

Heritage through design

The Design Trust’s third park, Hamilton Street in Yau Ma Tei, will open in October, with the fourth due to open by the end of the year. Hamilton Park’s design team is celebrating the region’s rich craft history.

Home to historic buildings and temples, the area is home to many “sifu” or master craftsmen whose businesses have endured for generations. The Design Trust commissioned them to produce elements of the park, such as copper lighting, as well as signage made from the distinctive cutting boards seen in the city’s butcher shops.

“It gives designers an opportunity, but it also (sparks) the transformation of the neighborhood.”

Marisa Yiu, founder of the Hong Kong Design Trust

The preservation of an old banyan tree at the edge of the park is another nod to the past, and a large table in the middle of the park serves as a focal point for the community to gather.

According to Yiu, the cost of each park per square meter is the same as generic parks seen elsewhere in the city – except for Yi Pei Square, which received extra funding.

The designers commissioned works from local artisans, such as this sign made of a cutting board, often seen in butcher shops in the city. Credit: Dan Hodge/CNN

He hopes these prototype pocket parks will encourage cities to think more creatively about the design of public spaces and move away from the “cookie-cutter formula.”

“We don’t want 20,000 pink parks,” Yiu said. “Design Trust Hong Kong’s heritage looks at the challenges of a park’s context, but also health and well-being and sustainable futures. Each park has a different way of engaging. Everyone’s participation is a cultural responsibility.”