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Hong Kong Waterfronts

We were all undergraduate students attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the United States.

This project was sponsored by Paul Zimmerman and Samuel Wong of Designing Hong Kong, and Alain Chiaradia, the deputy head of the Department of Urban Planning and Design at the University of Hong Kong.

We spent the past 7 weeks in Hong Kong completing our Interactive Qualifying Project, a social science capstone project for WPI. Our university has been working with Designing Hong Kong for the past 15 years since 2008, and we were excited to work with the Department of Urban Planning and Design for our project.

From our time spent studying the Hong Kong waterfronts, we think they are incredibly scenic and provide great paths for travel. We also noticed how these public spaces have the power to build community connections, but only if we provide the necessary structure for them to do so.

This led to the goal of our project: to provide recommendations for Designing Hong Kong (DHK) and the University of Hong Kong Department of Urban Planning and Design (HKU DUPAD) to better enable social connections at waterfronts. We achieved this by following these three objectives:

This map on the right shows the seven areas by the water that we studied. In each area, we carried out two types of surveys: a survey while people were moving and a survey while people were stationary. We conducted these surveys on both a weekend and a workday.

For the moving survey, we imagined lines at four different points across each area and counted the number of people who crossed those lines. We also made note of how each person crossed the line, whether they were running, walking, or riding a bike.

For the stationary survey, we walked along the entire length of the promenade and counted the number of people who were not just passing through the area. We recorded whether they were sitting, standing, or lying down, as well as what they were doing. This could include cultural activities like Tai Chi or if they were eating or drinking something.

We conducted each survey six times throughout the day. The moving surveys started at the beginning of each time block shown on the screen, and the stationary survey took place immediately after the last count in the moving survey.

Here is a map of our study in Sheung Wan, the first of the 3 waterfronts we looked at in Victoria Harbour. The grey regions represented observed portions of the promenade, the green showed unobserved park areas, and the yellow showed food kiosks. Each of the four points of interest was also shown on the map.

Some fun pictures of some of the things we saw!

Here at Quarry Bay, there was a choke point that made a disconnect between the two halves of the waterfront. There was also a dedicated dog park located in the upper left area.

Some fun pictures at Quarry Bay.

At Kwun Tong, there was lots of commercial space and food stands compared to the other waterfronts.

There were also lots of fun events happening at Kwun Tong.

Here was our map of Sha Tin Park, where we had two points of study on each side of the Shing Mun river. As you could see, there was a lot of park space, with the north side even having a food vendor.

Particular notes from this location were the stage with the river backdrop. Additionally, the bike rental shop along the promenade was quite popular as well.

Ma On Shan is a lot longer than the observed space, so we kept it to a length similar to the other promenades and focused around Ma On Shan Park.

Inside Ma On Shan Park, there were charging bikes to power your devices.

At Tai Po Waterfront Park, similar to Ma On Shan, the promenade extended much further than the park area alone.

Biking was a huge draw at this park as well.

We studied both sides of the Lam Tsuen River. On both sides of the river, parts of the Tai Po Mega Mall existed.

The pedestrian bridge at the bottom right was a high-traffic area, as it connected directly to the Tai Po Mega Mall. However, it was not part of our observation area.

Here is where we look at the data that we analyzed.

The following graph shows the people living and working within tertiary planning units within a 10-minute walk of the waterfronts. It is interesting to note that the Kwun Tong area had the highest surrounding employment population and overall highest combined population, but it was later shown that it was not the most visited waterfront.

This graph shows the moving counts taken during a previous summer study (in red) and the winter study (in blue). The lighter-colored bars represent weekend counts and the darker-colored bars represent workday counts. The Victoria Harbour waterfronts that were studied in the summer generally had higher counts in the summer. So, any observations we saw now could be exacerbated in the summer. Weekends were almost always more popular than the workday. So, if you look at the bars for Sheung Wan on the left, you can see there is an outlier for the weekend data. This was because while we were there, a fire boat event attracted over 1,000 visitors that we did not find during the workday observation. Looking at a few other interesting findings:

The following graph shows the fraction of all people counted at each waterfront on a given day that were stationary. When people are stationary and enjoying a public space together, they form social connections and bonds. Therefore, it is important to emphasize the use of these spaces beyond being a simple running or walking path. As you can see from the left side of the graph, the Victoria Harbour waterfronts were better at keeping people around. Kwun Tong in particular saw nearly 40% of weekend visitors staying in the space. Many of the waterfronts in the New Territories lacked seating and often emphasized running and biking paths, leading to a much lower fraction of total visitors staying in the space.

Next, we discussed some of our observations from spending time at each waterfront and our recommendations for improvements to better enable people to stay and socialize in these beautiful public spaces.

Starting off with shade, the pictures on the left show Tai Po Waterfront Park, a south-facing promenade that experienced direct sun for most of the day. This caused people to avoid the waterfront walkway in favor of the shaded bike paths. We would recommend that more trees and foliage be planted along sun-facing paths.

The images on the right show Sha Tin Park. The top picture shows a group seating area in direct sun with almost nobody sitting around. The bottom image shows that the seating becomes full of visitors once the sun is below the cover of nearby buildings. The addition of more practical shading would make these spaces more attractive for people to congregate and socialize.

The Promenades had several spaces for people to sit and stay, but most lacked options for different types of seating. Along most waterfronts, there were single-direction benches, which limited the activities that people could do with one another. Although rare, there were some opportunities for group seating already implemented in the New Territories, which allowed people to stay and talk, eat food, or work. You could see these locations in action on the left in Tai Po Waterfront Park and Sha Tin Park. We would recommend this implementation to the Victoria Harbour waterfronts to better enable group seating and help social connections flourish.

Next, more protected seating should be considered as it could protect from rain and, in some places like LTR, bird poop. Moving your focus to the top right of the screen is an example of benches at the waterfront. While we were at LTRP taking our measurements, two of our teammates were pooped on while working on benches. This limited the use of said benches, and a solution had already been implemented in parts of Hong Kong through protective seating in gardens and parks.

Next up, we talked about access to food. At Sha Tin Park, the nearby food kiosk was open, and over 25% of the people counted as sitting that day were consuming food or beverages. In contrast, the food kiosk at Tai Po Waterfront Park was closed during our observations. This resulted in only 6.9% of people counted as sitting were consuming food or beverages. There was a clear link between food accessibility and people staying to eat. Because food is a great way to bring people together, we recommended that food vendors be more consistently implemented across the waterfronts.

Final recommendations are related to the history and culture of the waterfronts. In the photo on the top left, we saw a tai chi class making use of the open space around the waterfront. Around the area, we also witnessed sword dancing and other similar activities. These cultural activities helped bring the community together, so we recommended keeping these open spaces usable. In the bottom left is a plaque describing the history of the Kwun Tong waterfront and the statues that accompany it. You can see that the text is faded and illegible. The waterfronts are a deeply ingrained part of Hong Kong’s past and were interesting to visitors, at least to us when we were there. So our recommendation here is to emphasize the history of the area with the plaques by not only maintaining them but also adding more to the other waterfronts to connect the community and attract tourists.

We would like to give one more thank you to our sponsors Paul, Sam, and Alain for all of their help.

To read more about our study, you can view the file below or click on the link here

I am deeply amazed by the team’s utmost expertise and flawless implementation of the project. Their effectiveness, collaboration, and adeptness in their domain have left me in awe. I extend my sincere gratitude for the exceptional result they have delivered.

Paul Zimmerman

Client, Founder, and CEO of Designing Hong Kong

Here are also some diagrams that delve more in-depth into our code base.

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