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Uniquely HK

Feature Story

Walking Hong Kong above ground!

In one of the most densely populated cities in the world, the urban hustle and bustle that plays out on Hong Kong’s streets, as throngs of people jostle while going about their daily business, fascinates visitors not used to such pace. But such interactions don’t only play out on the streets. Indeed, one of the striking aspects of Hong Kong’s cityscape is the extensive labyrinth of elevated pedestrian walkways, connecting and extending high-rise buildings like a giant maze. Intriguingly, in many areas of the city, it is possible to walk a kilometre or more from point A to point B without ever touching the ground. 
 
While other cities also have overhead walkways and pedestrian tunnels, it’s the scale and scope of Hong Kong’s networks that astounds, to the fascination of many visiting urban planners and academics. A 2012 book co-authored by architect academics Adam Frampton, Jonathan Solomon and Clara Wong mapped out 32 such pedestrian walkway systems around the city, surely the most extensive in the world.
 
The benefits of these systems are manifold: firstly, they alleviate street traffic and pedestrian congestion. This is especially true when many main thoroughfares or expressways cuts through the city, effectively disconnecting neighbourhoods; the elevated walkways relink them, greatly increasing pedestrian flow and convenience. Also, almost all the overhead walkways are covered, protecting pedestrians from both sun and rain, something that can be helpful in a city with over 100 inches of rainfall annually. The walkways also provide a relaxing and safe environment to walk in, free from worry about vehicle traffic. And for the most part they lead to popular destinations: MTR and other transport exchanges, office buildings, shopping malls or residential developments, and of course they are all eminently safe as they are well lit at all hours. 
 
The city’s overhead walkways also transform conventional notions of public space. Rather than competing with motor traffic and essential calls on the public realm at ground level, these quintessentially Hong Kong public spaces liberate movement in their own maze-like world, providing an organic connectedness that redefines urban existence. 
 
A perfect example of such transformation would be a Sunday stroll through the overhead walkways by the IFC complex where thousands of Hong Kong domestic helpers camp out for the day, eating, playing, buying and selling, doing nails, and creating their own micro-culture for a day. 
 
So, lace up your sneakers and take an uplifting walk along Hong Kong’s unique walkways system and explore the city without touching the ground.
 
Central / Sheung Wan Walkway System
 
 
 
This is the most extensive and impressive network of overhead walkways in the city and, arguably, in the world. The network connects most of the landmark buildings, malls and public transport nodes in Central and Sheung Wan, extending as far up as the residential areas of the mid-levels perched above the city. And there are photo spots galore, many providing interesting angles and perspectives. To make sense of the network, there are three spines: a pedestrian bridge starting from the Hong Kong Macau Ferry in Sheung Wan to Exchange Square in Central. Another spine intersects at the IFC, which in turn connects to the famous Mid-Levels Escalator System, the longest escalator system in the world, winding its way up to Conduit Road high above. A third spine intersects at the Exchange Square, leading pedestrians to either the ferry terminals and the Central Harbourfront or the Lan Kwai Fong nightlife area, via Landmark and the heart of Central. A branch of that also ends at Battery Path near St. John’s Cathedral, from which one can connect to the Admiralty walkway system. And yes, you’ll never need to touch the ground or wait for traffic the whole time. 
 
For visitors we suggest trying all three spines and hop on and hop off the systems to visit the many destinations and attractions as you wish.
 
Admiralty Walkway System
 
 
 
The system is impressive in its own right, as it connects buildings from Central to the heart of Admiralty and beyond to the Harbourfront. The hub of the system is the Admiralty MTR Station from where a long pedestrian loop connects to key office buildings in Central including Cheung Kong Centre and Three Garden Road, Central, and thence to Hong Kong Park, from where the walkways leads through Pacific Place, one of Hong Kong largest commercial complexes before linking back to the MTR station. The other spine starts from the MTR station and reaches out to the harbour through either the Government Offices Complex with its beautifully landscaped open plaza, all the way to the waterfront, or through a parallel walkway ending at Citic Tower, from which it is just a hop and a skip to the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Centre in Wanchai North, itself connected to a maze of overhead walkways that lead back to Wanchai MTR Station. 
 
Tsuen Wan Walkway System
 
 
 
To explore and enjoy a pedestrian system with a totally different feel, take the short trip to visit the overhead walkway system in Tsuen Wan, a large satellite town on the western fringes of Kowloon, also with a lovely harbour fronting the town. Again, it’s the MTR station that serves as the starting point of the network with scores of overhead walkways connecting to nearby buildings, malls and residential developments. In fact, most of Tsuen Wan Station’s exits disgorge passengers directly onto these walkways. Consequently, retail spaces at that level are considered prime areas and command premium rents. Another long spine cuts through the town leading towards the waterfront, eventually branching off at a couple of large developments nearby, including the iconic Nina Tower as well as Tsuen Wan West MTR Station a few minutes away. Just explore randomly as you wish, including the Luk Yeung Galleria and the landscaped area of Luk Yeung Sun Chuen Estate next to the MTR station.
 
Olympian City Elevated Walkway System
 
 
 
Perhaps not as extensive, the Olympian City network of pedestrian walkways located in West Kowloon does allow visitors a pleasant change of urban scene, from the lush residential developments near the waterfront, through the interconnected warren of the Olympian City Shopping Malls – there are three of them, and ending in the old neighbourhoods of Tai Kok Tsui and Mongkok, including the famed Mongkok wet market. The swift change of urban scenery is stunning, and a further short walk after exiting the overhead walkways will land you in the heart of Mongkok’s famous street life, including Ladies Market, Bird Market, and several flower markets. As always, the MTR Station acts as the central node of the system with the branches dispersing to the surrounding area.
 
 
 
(Edited on 3 March 2017)

 

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