Underground space development sounds promising
Updated: 2017-02-10 08:51
The Hong Kong government has just concluded initial public consultations on developing underground spaces in selected urban areas. We don't know the result yet, but it's a great idea that deserves full public support.
Making underground spaces available in busy commercial districts is an idea born from the overall plan to make the city more pedestrian friendly. Other proposals to block traffic in sections of busy streets in Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok have triggered strong protests from the business sector, which complains that such moves would break their rice bowls.
Skeptics have ignored the experience in other major world cities, notably Paris, which shows that pedestrianizing streets can lure more customers to shops, eateries and other businesses there. After being pedestrianized several years ago, Paris' famous market street Rue Cler has attracted many cafes, brasseries and a multitude of shops, including bakeries, florists and delis, to cater to growing numbers of both locals and tourists.
Under Hong Kong's business environment, it's impossible to persuade business owners, represented by the powerful chambers of commerce and other trade organizations, to budge because of cost concerns. They may have a valid point. Due to space constraints, most local shops don't stock up huge inventories. Banning cars from streets where they operate can make timely delivery of goods to replenish depleted stocks not only troublesome but also costly.
A workable alternative plan mooted by the government is to build a network of underground shopping arcades that would also serve as pedestrian walkways beneath prime commercial districts sheltered from the dust and noise of the busy traffic above. Judged by the popularity of the elevated pedestrian walkways in the central business district, the subterranean solution should be equally, if not more, welcomed by the public.
The benefits of developing underground space for pedestrians should be obvious. The only concern is the cost of such a large and complicated engineering project. The government has vast experience in jointly developing income-producing infrastructure projects with the private sector. The prospective income from rentals from underground shops offers a business opportunity that private developers won't ignore.
(HK Edition 02/10/2017 page9)