It’s a small world after all. The big question is: can we protect our country parks?
Written By Eunie Jeong
“When I moved to Hong Kong, I was almost shocked. The whole city looked so grey, with buildings soaring into the sky. There were construction sites everywhere and I could barely see any parks. I felt I was out of place,” shares a student of grade 7, who has moved here from UK where there are lots of green spaces.
Many may feel we Hong Kongers do not have a choice in deciding to just ignore how few parks we have. Hong Kong’s population density crisis is becoming more and more apparent as the city struggles to provide enough residential space. Hong Kong has a population of 7.5 million, and its density is 6,300 people per square kilometre.
The government constantly eyes Hong Kong’s scarce country parks, including one near our school, the Ma On Shan Country Park, to build residential areas. The South China Morning Post reports that, “The government is looking to plug a predicted shortage of 1,200 hectares to quench the thirst for new homes.” Many residents express concerns as they believe that once this action takes place more will follow, until the essential greenery of Hong Kong is devoured.
The move to review the value of country parks is understandable, considering that there is increasingly less space for residents to live, and as the population inside this small city gets bigger and bigger, while the land does not. It doesn’t help that only about a fifth of the land is inhabitable, while most of the land is covered by mountains, a hostile space to live in.
So do we need country parks after all? Yes, for several undeniable reasons. The first reason that country parks and nature reserves at the current level of 40 percent of the city should be sustained is because 98 percent of all flora and fauna species in Hong Kong live in them.
The preservation of the country parks has an additional benefit of promoting tourism. Country parks play an important role in attracting the many visitors who like to visit the hiking trails to view the vast landscape and diverse beautiful plants that they hold. Cutting down on country parks, thus, may lead to a significant loss for Hong Kong tourism. The tourist attractions mostly lead to hiking in one way or another, like the Peak, which receives around seven million tourists each year from all across Asia. The value of country parks as a tourist attraction is proved in other countries. For instance, in the UK they receive up to 57 million visitors each year.
The less people know, the less they care about the greenery that we are privileged with.
The parks are important to locals as well. According to a 2018 publication by the Hong Kong SAR government, about 11.2 million visitors, including locals, were recorded in the parks. They engaged in leisure walking, exercising, hiking, barbecuing and many family activities. Health- and social-wise, country parks have proven to be an important part of the life of this city.
There are many more reasons to preserve the parks. The increasing population means that the famous tourist spots are bulging with people, and to escape the rush of the city’s bustle, going to the peaceful, and less visited parks is almost indispensable. Research shows that the colour green is soothing to the eye, and can reduce stress and unpleasant emotions. Another important reason is that now air pollution is a global crisis, the parks, a natural purifier of the air, become a necessity.
It is very likely that Hong Kong people are drawing further and further away from nature. Of the three quarters of greenery in Hong Kong, how many of us stay cooped up in home, and only venture within the city? This may be the reason that the country parks are underappreciated. The less people know, the less they care about the greenery that we are privileged with. We should be making more use of the fact that much more than half of our land is covered in nature by actively using them, and help people to learn about how to appreciate them. Perhaps, partly due to lack of awareness of their values, recently there has been a decline in country parks designated than previous years.
Of course, if we want to invite nature into our midst, we don’t simply need to rely on country parks but can be innovative. For this, we can take a look around at what the other leading cities are doing. An effective example is available in the crowded city of Singapore, which has eco-friendly building projects, and is planting trees and greenery into their buildings, so as to help wildlife adjust better to the fast moving environment. However, these little green spots integrated in the city cannot replace what country parks can offer, like the free and fresh feelings, or the peace and quietude.
We have to remember that, if we do not pay close attention, the world will experience a drop in the flora and fauna as they struggle to keep up with man’s pace, which can have devastating consequences such as a loss of crucial medical ingredients, disturbances of the eco-chains, and also make the city a grey place to reside.
Considering all the benefits of the county parks, and possible issues with their disappearance, we should make efforts to keep and maintain designated spaces of country parks, while exploring other options that won’t require space nearly as much. It is our responsibility to seek solutions for the generations to come.