Saturday, July 10, 2010

Reflections on the City in sizzling summer heat

With the summer heat reaching a peak at around 40 degrees and 95% humidity, it is time to escape the narrow, stuffy lanes to take relief on breezy peaks in the shade of large subtropical trees. Ascending to Mount Parker and the fantastic views it creates from its peak, it demonstrates again the quality, the city provides. The city planning not only fascinates from above, but the entire fabric amazes through its compaction and densification on all scales and stages: It is not only the dense build environment (which has stimulated and inspired futurists and cinematographer alike in terms of a darker take on the future), but furthermore the closeness to dense raw nature just five minutes away from the city. It is an invasive and mutual relationship between the city and its nature. While nature has been fought in the past and tried to be controlled for the most part of the city development, there is a shift in understanding on how the relationship could be beneficial.

But are we on the right track towards a greener city, more sustainable city, or do do we miss the chance by simply applying western ideas of beautified landscape to the urban fabric?

It is true, that the tropical nature is way more invasive and destructive to architecture, than, say tempered environments. Not only in terms of plant growth, but also in terms of pests. Yet the chance lies exactly in its rawness and ever rejuvenating force. Because of Hong Kong's geographic unique situation of being of volcanic heritage, the city had to evolve around many smaller peaks, most of them too steep and too large to be inhabited. They left natural corridors with a rich fauna and flora just next to the city. The mistake, which has been done in the past, is to cut off the connections to the nature next to the city, trying to tame the nature within the urban environments to become maintenance intensive spots of green, manicured islands, resembling the western suburb: pretty to look at, not to use. The finger like connections, which stayed intact, remained mere accidents because of the volume of the topography and high costs of removing them.

The chance for Hong Kong lies in reinstating the finger connection to its nature, introducing a more sustainable element of wild into the urban centers. Similar to the (on paper only) garden city vision for the urban renewal of Rotterdam in the 50s, which introduced green corridors, creating un-interupted connections between city and nature and an improvement of the climate, Hong Kong could use the strength of its tropical nature, to introduce green channels, which allow fauna and flora exchange, improved climatic exchange and a secondary circulation network for leisure and recreation.

Other than a manicured nature, the local wild species are in less need to be maintained. In fact, their intense growth introduces the need to cut them back constantly. Introducing a wild corridor would reduce the need for maintenance and increase the self sustaining power of such environment.

Those thoughts come through my mind on a hot summer day up on the mountains, where the environment is so much better than down in the environment, created by us. Even if it appears to be not feasible for now due to mainly economic pressure within the city, we will launch a research project on nature highways and wild corridors soon....

© 2010, ice - ideas for contemporary environments

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