About Freedom Ball

Freedom Ball questions whether the Hong Kong government controls the use of public space for the benefit of Hong Kong people.

We do this through simple and striking interventions in public spaces which encourage the public to engage directly with activities which are currently banned in the space.

The principles of our interventions are that they challenge the rules in a way that is positive and engaging and encourage the public to join in actively.

Our aim is to change the way that public spaces are managed, designed and controlled so that they meet the needs of Hong Kong people.

自由波向政府質疑: 政府控制公共空間的使用是否有利於公眾利益。


這些行動的宗旨就是: 大家用正面而又有趣的形式鼓勵公眾積極投入這類活動,挑戰僵化規條。

我們的目的在於改變公共空間的設計和管理模式, 最終能符合香港市民的需要。

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Test Case Space

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

This is the test case I have chosen to follow through with LCSD. One of the problems that came out of the workshop with Park Managers was the barriers to change. Even where people agree in principle with changes that were suggested by the public when it came down to the nitty-gritty of making changes happen it all fell apart. Whilst the recent plans from LCSD are encouraging in theory, we want to test out some example test cases. We want to find out what the barriers to change are with a particular example of restricted access to a public space. Is it the park manager, senior LCSD Management, the park designers, the by-laws, the District Council?

This example is from Ap Lei Chau Park (the old park not the new Waterfront Park). It's a really great space - an open multi-purpose grass space that could be used for ball games, childrens' play, picnics, whatever people want to do. It is clearly signposted in the park as a "Multi-purpose Lawn" (photo 7) and even has some nice seating and tables (photo 5) so that people can sit and have a chat. It's just the sort of free, open, grass area that is in such short supply in Hong Kong Parks except...... well, except that it is seemingly permanently fenced off and chained up so that nobody can use it. There's a sign on the locked gate (photos 2 & 3) saying that the space can be booked by the public but I've never seen it being used. Why should people have to book in advance to walk on a piece of multi-purpose grass? The sign also suggest that the space is designated for lawn bowls but this contradicts its description as a Multi-purpose Lawn on the park signage. In any case its not a particularly suitable space for such a purpose and there are already much better yet still under-utilised lawn bowls facilities in Victoria Park and elsewhere.

Its debatable whether the space needs to be bookable at all, but even if it is there certainly seems to be no reason why it shouldn't be open to the public when it hasn't been booked. It is public space after all.

I brought up the issue of this space at the last meeting with the LCSD and they agreed at first glance that there seemed to be no reason why the space should be locked up and fenced off. They agreed that there didn't seem to be any reason why the gates, and indeed the fences, couldn't be removed in order to open up the space for the public. We will be following up to see whether this can be achieved.

If you have a similar space in your local park, LCSD have said that they would like to hear about it so let me know and we'll follow it up for you.

Another meeting

The LCSD invited me up to Shatin the other day to talk about progress since the workshop with Park Managers. This is their current plan:

There will be an LCSD workgroup led by two ADs (Assistant Directors) to re-vamp signage and furniture in Hong Kong parks and the design of facilities including, most importantly, fencing. They say that they have accepted the principal that accessible, multi-function lawn space should be a priority, which was one of the key issues to come of of the public feedback at the Shatin Freedom Ball. So thanks to everybody who gave and helped collect feedback as, to the LCSD's credit, they do seem to be responding, at least in principal, to feedback from the public. We will of course let you know when and if real changes start to appear (more on that later).

It was suggested that soft fencing will be used instead of the existing hard fences which was a concern for me as merely replacing hard fencing with more aesthetically pleasing soft fencing that still restricts the public from accessing the space doesn't really achieve any meaningful change. However, the LCSD assured me that they were committed to opening up space for public use and that fences would be removed altogether where possible and soft fencing used only where fencing was absolutely necessary. The devil is in the detail of course, so one of the key areas for debate is when fencing is necessary. Of course there will always be a need for some fencing for safety reasons but we're looking to see a fundamental shift in the balance between open and fenced areas.

The first trial of this programme will be in Quarry Bay Park towards the end of this year/beginning of next year (this was incidentally where the one of the first Freedom Ball events was held). The LCSD then plan to roll it out to another venue in the medium term and, based on feedback from this and the Quarry Bay project confirm a set of revised design principles by the beginning of 2012 which will be applied to both new and existing parks.

All in all an encouraging response from LCSD but we still need to see how it pans out in reality and we're still looking for feedback from the public, either here at Freedom Ball or send your thoughts directly to the LCSD if you prefer. So if you have any opinions about park design let us know, now is the time when your voice is most likely to be heard and incorporated into the changes that the LCSD are promising.

Simultaneously we also want to put some pressure on particular test cases to test out the stated philosophy and see whether it can/will be applied in the real world, and if not, why not. We discussed one of these examples at the meeting and I will talk about the details in my next post.