Utilise urban parks equitably, mitigate Hong Kong’s climate hazards now

Hong Kong will face more intense heat, flood, storm surges and biodiversity depletion under climate change. Healing Parks, an advocacy group, says that urban parks can help to mitigate these hazards – but current park design guidelines fail to consider climate resilience. If the government remains inactive, it would harm the public and cause grave climate injustice.

HONG KONG, 29 June 2023 – CarbonCare Innolab’s Climate Advocacy Youth Group ‘Healing Parks’ held an urban park survey result release, suggesting urban parks in Hong Kong are not performing their important functions in mitigating and fighting against climate change.

Black-crowned Night Herons, at colony in Kowloon Park (Martin Williams)

The group quoted Prof. Lawal Marafa from the Department of Geography and Resource Management, CUHK, states that urban parks are much more than a place for leisure; they play a top role in mitigating climate change-induced impacts against our city.

Dr. Cheng Luk-ki, Director of Green Power, stresses the ability of trees, soil and water bodies in urban parks to alleviate heat island effect, retain and absorb downpours, purify air, and provide habitats for many species.

According to Healing Parks’ survey with 184 valid responses, distributed from 16th to 22nd this June, over 80% of all respondents believed that urban parks can or may be able to mitigate climate change, in particular, citing the ability to ‘improve air quality’ (73%), ‘become carbon sink’ (67%), and ‘reduce heat island effect’ (64%) as the top 3 climate mitigating functions of urban parks. The results reflected that a majority of the public had a correct understanding of urban parks’ role in strengthening the city’s climate resilience. Yet, despite the main document governing park design, Planning Department’s 2015 version of ‘Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines Chapter 4: Recreation, Open Spaces and Greening’, mentions the function of urban parks to improve microclimate, it stops short of considering its ability to mitigate climate hazards. Instead, the emphasis is on ‘landscape’ and their aesthetic qualities. Equally, the 2021 issued ‘Hong Kong Climate Action Plan 2050’ also does not see urban parks as an effective means to combat extreme weather. Hence, the government has failed to utilise the power of urban parks to mitigate climate hazards.

Advocacy Group ‘Healing Parks’ criticises the inadequacy and poor quality of parks in areas most vulnerable to climate hazards. A climate resilient park will have large-canopied trees, ponds, permeable flooring, etc. to absorb water and dissipate heat. It will further make elevated or sunken designs based on the microclimate and topography to enhance the community’s drainage. Healing Parks has conducted a series of air quality and temperature assessment in Tsuen Wan parks including Yi Pei Square Playground, Jockey Club Tak Wah Park, Sam Tung Uk Garden and Shing Mun Valley Park (see in Appendix). Combined with existing data, Healing Parks finds that the old built-up area suffers one of the longest duration of very hot days and hot nights, and is prone to future floods in 2050.

Mr. Antonio Luk Ling-chung, member of Tsuen Wan District Council, shared that most of the residents in the old district of Tsuen Wan are the elderly and people living in subdivided households. Their housing environment is relatively congested, so they often go to nearby parks to enjoy the shade, becoming the main users of urban parks in Tsuen Wan. Especially in such an area where parks are most needed, Healing Parks finds that such provision and size are particularly small, as compared to the newly-built Tsuen Wan West. In terms of quality, existing parks in the old area are poor in ventilation, vegetation and biodiversity, failing to reduce the impacts of heat island effect and flooding.

Dr. Yau Wing-kwong JP, of the Environmental Association Ltd., points out that the concrete grounds of urban parks will trap heat and intensify the heat

island effect, posing a risk to the health of citizens. Weaknesses in planning and maintenance of these parks will jeopardise park users’ health.

The group also calls attention to janitors as another group of park users most vulnerable to climate change, especially to extreme heat. Mr. Ching Chin-wai, labour activist and artist, describes how ‘the right to cool down is distributed along class, not to actual needs’. Mr. Ching criticises, the failure to consider janitors’ needs in existing park design and management has given outsourced park cleaners all but a break room that is cramped, without electricity, and unventilated, forcing them to rest in toilets or cool down by the toilet exhaust fans. The group advises the government to factor in the needs of vulnerable users and blue-collar workers in urban park design guidelines. Equitable intervention is necessary to ensure the benefits are equally distributed among every user.

Advocacy Group ‘Healing Park’ urges the government to take the following actions immediately:

  • Initiate a city-wide climate adaptation assessment to measure the impacts of climate hazards on Hong Kong’s ecosystems, communities, and vulnerable users (e.g. the elderly, the permanently ill, the disabled, and blue-collar workers).
  • Introduce climate mitigating and adaptive functions when maintaining existing urban parks and updating park design guidelines. Reference can be drawn from other cities’ initiatives to promote resilience through enhancing urban green spaces, e.g. London, Singapore, Amsterdam.
  • Formulate a cross-departmental working group to make urban parks more sustainable and resilient. The working group should consist of DevB, EEB, PlanD, LCSD, CEDD, and other relevant government bodies. Its terms of reference should include formulating climate resilient design and management standards for urban parks, with due consideration paid to the needs of vulnerable users,use of renewable energy, and a concrete schedule for implementation.

One comment

  1. As I noted to a person in another ngo:

    //Of course, greening city parks won’t reduce climate change; but could help mitigate some effects locally.

    I’ve seen there’s a heatwave forecast for east China in next few days: might be interesting/ informative if could measure temperatures in city parks with numerous trees, compare with nearby areas with few or no trees.
    Likewise along some city streets.

    To me, there are problems as park managers often feel pressure to make parks “tidy” – so maybe too much vegetation is cut, dead leaves removed, which is poor for biodiversity.
    Can also be too much spraying against insects like mosquitoes. Seems to be the case in Hong Kong.

    But if there is decent biodiversity, not just something that only a few scientists might be happy about.

    IF more birds, butterflies etc etc, ordinary people can also enjoy.
    Especially as city parks can be give people chance to experience nature quite easily, much more so than nature reserves etc that might be a bit distant.//

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