Keep Off the Grass in Hong Kong Parks

by Natalia Echeverri

Source: Strippedpixel

Hong Kong is one of the densest cities in the world. In between high-rise buildings, public space is limited and strictly regulated. In city parks, laying down on the grass, playing ball and playing the guitar are prohibited. These are just a few examples from a long list of rules that govern public use of open space.

Source: Timeout

The City of Hong Kong's Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) is in charge of most public space, and while many of their rules rationally govern parks for the majority of users, a few are baffling. For example, you are not allowed:
fly kites, model aircraft, balloons or other devices... melt or burn wax; or sprinkle or pour liquid onto hot wax... play any musical instrument, operate any radio or gramophone, or sing to the annoyance of any other person, unless the playing of the instrument, the operation of the radio or gramophone, or the singing of any song is in accordance with written permission granted by the LCSD (Legislative Council Secretariat, City of Hong Kong).
Perhaps the most notorious restrictions have to do with grass. In most cases, grass is not to be walked on, sat on or played on. Signs declare the grass off-limits, and little white chains threaten to trip any trespassers. Other than strolling on paths, sitting on benches and a bit of tai chi in plazas, there are few other impromptu leisure and recreational activities that one can enjoy in a Hong Kong park. The LSCD generally cites maintenance issues to explain the regulations. Some people think it is a subtle crowd-control measure.

Source: Freedom Ball

In the last five years, however, these rules have been creatively challenged by a few residents who are trying to improve the quality of their parks. Freedom Ball, a group of activists, pokes fun at the government's park management by blatantly breaking the "no balls" rule. Their "installations" consist of releasing 1,000 large, red inflatable balls in city parks. As children play with the balls, they call the strict regulations into question.

Hong Kong media artist Thickest Choi was frustrated with the lack of green space and the government's tendency to favor development over the public realm. He created Lawnmap, an interactive website that displays the location and status of usable lawns around the city. The website currently lists about 130 lawns, mostly added by users. It also allows users to organize picnics, concerts and other events at these locations.

As the people of Hong Kong express their desire to use parks more freely, one hopes that the government will listen and relax its dominion over public space.

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  1. The park proposed as part of the West Kowloon Cultural District might solve part of this problem by giving citizens a chance to sit on the grass, kick a ball or organise a week-end picnic. This is at least the plans put forward by the winning entry (City Park). Hopefully these won't be blocked by administrative regulations...

  2. Since the public is so restricted in using designated space, is it really public anymore? Through an effort of preservation, the government is trying to privatize the space. This brings up two important questions: 1) who is the government, or more specifically, who is LCSD? and 2) what's the real reason for these restrictions? The privatization of space reminds me of gentrification- it calls forth clashing ideologies on public space. The fact that there has been a revolt against these park rules shows the two contrasting group opinions on how public space should be used. LCSD probably includes upper-class residents who value the aesthetics, tourism, and control. Other Hong Kong residents see public space as unrestricted domain. I’m curious about who has authority to enforce regulations on this space. It notes that the LCSD is “in charge of most public space,” but do they have the power to keep people in check? Do they have “park police” like in Paris? The extent to which this space is in fact public depends on the militarization – LCSD has the power to create these regulations, but groups such as Freedom Ball “call the strict regulations into question.” Though the author suggests the government should “relax its dominion over public space,” the citizen’s ability to revolt and challenge highlights the apparent competition of public cultures, much like Andrew Deener writes about in "Venice."
    The regulation of space threatens the space’s ability to become a place. If LCSD is seriously indebted to creating these contrasting areas of leisure and recreation, they need to make the parks of use to the public. Merely aesthetic values cannot lure in the majority of the public to visit these green spots; if we cannot “do” something with space,” then this place cannot be produced.

  3. I think they have to make these new rules to keep the environment.