Monday, November 23, 2009

The sorry state of Hong Kong Park

I used to enjoy walking through Hong Kong Park on my way to Admiralty MTR station. Not anymore. This walk now provides only more reasons to despair about the state of our public spaces once they are over-managed by incompetent government officials with a huge budget and a complete lack of common sense. The park is managed by the usual suspect, the LSCD, whose idea of landscape design seems to be borrowed from a bored housewife in the American midwest compulsively adding flower pots and white picket fences to her lawn. The result is tacky and artificial, and would make any landscape designer cringe. Either the LSCD does not regard urban landscaping as an important area requiring careful cultural and technical attention, or they have hired the wrong people to carry out this delicate task. Every tree now is tagged with the tree name, some are even accompanied by oversize stainless steel plaques. Trees are surrounded by potted flowers and plastic fences, the paths are lined with more plastic pots, encased in white plastic fences. Loud vinyl banners cover all the architectural features, and childish signs bearing flower names and nursery style drawings are added to rows of flower beds in clashing colours.
If you take a stroll in the park to get some respite from the visual assault of billboards and banners, you won't find it in this park, as the LCSD makes a point of competing with the private sector to get your attention. Everywhere you look you will see their giant logo, and their ubiquitous "it's forbidden to" signs.

Most countries, China included, have well-established landscape professions backed by knowledge of urban landscaping and mechanisms in place for prior consultation on such aspects as overall layout and local cultural characteristics. Hong Kong might be suffering from an identity crisis, as this city seems unable to develop any idea of beauty. Almost every attempt at "beautification" results in a tacky and crammed design, with too many features, in clashing colours and a totally artificial feel.
Plastic and stainless steel, combined with nursery colours, dominate Hong Kong urban parks.

I could point to examples of beautiful gardens in Europe, but as we are part of China, then why would the LCSD choose white picket fences and flower pots instead of adopting a Chinese aesthetic in the design of gardens?

The traditional Chinese Garden is a place for solitary or social contemplation of nature. There is no plastic. Chinese gardens provide a spiritual utopia for one to connect with nature, they are a spiritual shelter for people. They use plants as symbols. Bamboo was used in every traditional Chinese garden. This is because bamboo represents a strong but resilient character, banana trees are used for the sound they make in the breeze, because a garden should engage other senses besides the visual sense.
The design of a garden drew on such diverse fields as fengshui, botany, hydraulics, history, literature, and architecture. The task was considered so complex that only a scholar was capable of completing it, thus his garden was a measure of his knowledge. For the same reason poetry was a primary part of the garden design, as knowledge and composition of poetry served as an intelligence test for the scholar class. The garden served multiple functions as semi-public extension of the house and a place; of retreat, for festivity, for study of poetry, for romance. The social and cultural importance of the garden in Chinese culture cannot be underestimated.

In Hong Kong though, some incompetent civil servant who probably despises nature and is more at ease in an air-conditioned shopping mall is allowed to turn our oldest park into a complete mess.
Can someone send him on a field trip to Suzhou, Chengdu, Beijing, Nanjing, etc? Most parks in Shenzhen are better than what we have to suffer in HK!

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