Can Hong Kong implement the '15-minute city' concept? - South China Morning Post



Can Hong Kong implement the '15-minute city' concept?

In recent years, a new concept for making urban areas greener and more liveable has emerged: the 15-minute city. It allows city dwellers to access most, if not all, of their daily amenities, including work and school, by taking just a 15-minute walk or bike ride from their home.

The idea has swept across China and cites around the world, including Paris, Barcelona, Milan, Melbourne, Ottawa and Portland. Could it also one day be implemented in Hong Kong?

The C40, a global network of nearly 100 city mayors, have agreed on the core tenets of the 15-minute city. Firstly, residents of every neighbourhood should have easy access to basic goods and services, particularly fresh food and health care.

Second, each neighbourhood will promote community inclusion by offering a variety of public and private housing of different sizes and levels of affordability, to accommodate a range of households.

Third, the concept should also allow people to work remotely from their main offices with the presence of smaller-scale offices and co-working spaces, as well as some spaces for the retail and hospitality sectors.

Finally, each 15-minute zone must offer green spaces for everyone to enjoy.

In Paris, the 15-minute city and "hyper-proximity" were key pillars of Mayor Anne Hidalgo's successful 2020 re-election campaign. The aim is for residents to be able to find everything they need within walking or cycling distance, including grocery stores, offices, parks, schools, coffee shops, fitness studios, hospitals and clinics.

By 2024, cycle paths will be installed on every street and bridge, while 60,000 on-street car parking spaces will be converted into office space or co-working hubs. To address the lack of green spaces, small parks will be added to school playgrounds and will be open to the public outside school hours.

In mainland China, progress has already been made in developing "15-minute community circles". Last year, 30 cities and districts, including Shanghai, were chosen to pilot the project, and another 50 have been announced this year. The schemes now cover more than 2,000 communities, serving more than 23 million residents.

The promotion of people-centred urbanisation is part of China's 14th five-year plan. The community circles aim to combine smart layouts with high-quality services, enhancing convenience and harmony among residents. According to CCTV news, satisfaction among residents in the first pilot areas is at 93 per cent.

Bloomberg News has described the 15-minute city as a "utopia" of urban planning. Is this utopia achievable in Hong Kong?

In a survey by Transport Department from 2011, the average commute using public transport was more than 40 minutes – the same as in 2002. If the 15-minute city concept were to be applied, this time would be reduced by two-thirds, significantly improving quality of life.

However, transforming Hong Kong into a 15-minute city may not yet be feasible. Such a concept emphasises self-sufficiency over connectivity. Currently, Hong Kong is divided according to function, with separate industrial, commercial, and residential areas. Moreover, the ability to walk or cycle is central to the community-friendly lifestyle of the 15-minute city, which is hardly the reality we see today

Hong Kong does have a 82km-long cycle network in the New Territories. Running from east to west, it covers a 60km section between Tuen Mun and Ma On Shan, and another section of about 22km between Tsuen Wan and Tuen Mun, which will be rolled out in phases.

However, these cycle tracks are mainly intended for recreational use; they do not constitute a principal mode of transport. This mindset is reflected in the Transport Department's route-planning mobile app HKeMobility, which includes routes for driving or walking but not for cycling.

Many hope that when planning districts in the ambitious new Northern Metropolis, the authorities will embrace out-of-the-box thinking, with a focus on reducing carbon emissions and balancing housing and work spaces. But why not start now?

For example, the Transport Department can start by including cycle paths in the Intelligent Road Network (IRN), a government data platform which provides information on roads and traffic across Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, when planning or upgrading roads in the New Territories, bicycles should form a key part of the transport infrastructure, with more parking spaces for bicycles and wider safety islands between roads to reduce competition between cyclists and pedestrians.

The goals of reducing emissions, improving quality of life and strengthening community bonds cannot be achieved instantly. Yet the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. If the government is willing to take that first step, change will surely follow.



Dr. Winnie Tang
Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong