More green space, please

More green space, please

Hong Kong covers an area of 2,800 square kilometres with a population of 7.3 million. It has one of the highest population densities in the world at about 6,400 people per square kilometre and rents are the highest in Asia. However, it has still managed to build more than 70 parks for its citizens to find refuge from urban stress.

Greater Bangkok covers 7,800 square km with an official population of 8.3 million but the real figure is estimated at 11-12 million. Even with that number, population density is not a big issue and rents are among the cheapest in Asia. But how many parks do we have? Fewer than 50 is the answer.

Let's look at a micro-comparison between Lumpini Park in the heart of Bangkok and Kowloon Park in Tsim Sha Tsui, the heart of Kowloon. What are the attractions in Lumpini Park? Its 57 hectares contain a statue of King Rama VI, an artificial lake where visitors can rent boats, an elder centre, a refuge for homeless children, a library and a youth centre with sports activities and equipment for members.

Kowloon Park, covering just 13 hectares, has various flora and gardens with an aviary and mini zoo, waterfalls, museums, an exhibition centre and indoor sporting facilities with four indoor heated pools and leisure pools outside.

The advantage of Lumpini is its sheer size, making it a great place to run, but clearly there are more things to do in Kowloon Park. Its pool complex alone serves more than 2,000 swimmers per day and its playground area dwarfs that of any in Bangkok. It's certainly much safer as well with no sharp edges and paved with rubber playground tiles. Other attractions include a two-tier lotus pond linked by a rock cascade where the terrapins and flamingos bask, and the ability to simply listen to the rain falling on the foliage along a 200-metre sheltered walkway.

So what's our excuse? Why can't we have a park in Bangkok that can rival something like Kowloon Park, Victoria Park or Tai Po Waterfront Park? No space? No. High rents? No. The scenery is more beautiful in Hong Kong? Certainly not. There is no new investment? Most likely.

Kowloon Park was partly opened in 1970 before being revamped in 1987-89 at a cost of US$300 million with funding from the then Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club to add a sports centre and pool complex. Lumpini Park was created in the 1920s by King Rama VI on royal property and has never had a major renovation since then. The most recent plan in 2015 by the former Bangkok governor, MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra, called for elevating the statue of King Rama VI and adding more gardens, but little more.

His successor, Pol Gen Asawin Kwanmuang, says he intends to make all 35 parks in Bangkok brighter and safer to run in with more lights, but there is no upgrade plan beyond that. Where funding is concerned, he shares the view of his predecessor to wait for donations before any new public investment in parks is made. This is certainly an area where a public-private partnership and shared services could shine and also create goodwill among the public.

For example, private companies could be invited to use the grounds to promote corporate social responsibility projects or sponsor non-permanent spaces dedicated to traditional activities and cultural purposes. Appropriate projects and fees to generate income for the parks could be decided by a public committee. The revenue in turn could fund better maintenance and the creation of new permanent attractions to inspire people to be more outdoorsy and live a healthier life.

Kowloon Park offers a working website and a management office that is contactable directly. The BMA has a parks website but it lists no direct phone number or email to contact a person in charge. A better website would be a good starting point to build more interest.

The 10-year plan by MR Sukhumbhand should be reconsidered to include more opportunities to involve the private sector and the public in planning park activities and services.

Of course, more activities and promotions can be a double-edged sword. Some people like to hear the grass grow when they visit a park, but Kowloon Park appears to have managed the trade-off between tranquillity and activity intelligently. It's possible, for instance, to use a waterfall to insulate a busy area such as a playground from quiet spaces where others can relax, listen to birds or play chess.

Erich Parpart

Senior Reporter - Asia Focus

Senior Reporter - Asia Focus

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