A few days ago, the Hong Kong Trail, which crosses five country parks on the island, was named by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 city hikes in the world. It confirms that our country parks are a world-class treasure, particularly since they are so accessible from the busy city centre.
Some 40 per cent of
Hong Kong is country-park land; no
other major city can match that. These parks are Hongkongers’ great
escape; where city folks can head for fresh air, nature
and tranquil scenes. When severe acute respiratory syndrome
struck in 2003, thousands flocked to country parks, a safe haven
away from the virus-infected city, leading to enhanced
appreciation of the parks’ great value to our wellbeing. In 2011, they had 13 million
recorded visitors. They are the jewel in the crown
of Hong Kong, and we must spare
no effort to safeguard them.
To many people, specially low wage earners, making a living in the city is suffocating, debilitating and hardly bearable. But our spacious country parks welcome all, irrespective of means. There, we can relax; breathe in nature’s fragrances; hike in the midst of beautiful landscapes; see plants, birds, butterflies and bugs, all the while nourishing the seeds of happiness in our hearts. Simply put, we get recharged. Feeling good, we then head back to work for another productive time. Seen in this light, country parks serve us well as
Kong’s eternal spring of energy and happiness.
鳴謝：Danny Photography 地點：長咀
Unfortunately, suddenly, the whole city is talking about building houses in the country parks. It is portrayed as a quick fix to our chronic housing shortage. Anyone speaking up against the idea is relegated to the rank of bird-brained “environmentalist”, or denigrated for a lack of sympathy for those in dire need of housing.
Population projections of bygone years clearly indicated the growing demand for housing. But the last government sat on its hands for a decade or so. Officials were the apathetic ones, not “environmentalists”.
The argument for turning country park land into sites for housing is basically: “It’s a vast area with few people – what a waste!” The idea also works well as a distraction, taking our gaze away from the core issue – the optimal use of all types of land in Hong Kong, including that in the
. New Territories
In town, people are looking at maps and doing their homework. There are so many specific suggestions: use 1 per cent of the country-park area; push back the country-park boundary by 30 metres; develop Wong Nai Chung Gap and the Kowloon reservoirs for low- rise homes (for the rich?); a “great wall” of buildings along the coast of southern Lantau (again, for the rich?).
鳴謝：Lung Chuen Lo.
Within a week, potential country-park invaders are turning up everywhere. It’s like the emergence and spread of cancerous cells. It takes only one mutation to create an army of cancerous cells. In this case, that mutation was Development Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po’s blog article on 8 September.
It is disappointing that key government officials cannot grasp the fundamental values embedded in the country-park concept. Once one piece of country-park land is surrendered, there may well be no end to the attrition.
As the proverb says: give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. And so it would go on. To conserve our country parks, we have to prevent the first inch being given up. Thus, the first line of defense is effectively the last line; we have to fight the battle fiercely.
Those in power need to recognise that the vast country parks are there for good reason. They provide precious and invaluable services: giving families happy times together; enabling young people to build their character with hikes among the hills; energising tired souls; uplifting the depressed; providing a stage for people to enjoy group activities and develop collective strength through social interactions. I could go on.
Suffice to say that there is much more to our country parks than meets the eye. The space is not empty; it is full of meaning and its value to people is subtle but profound.
Just think of the billions of dollars people spend on fitness and training classes every year. Country parks contribute to our well-being at least as much, free of charge. They are a great natural resource for all, and should not be depleted permanently in favour of the one-off gains for a select few. That would be very poor economics.
The sad fact is that those who work in air-conditioned offices and never venture into country parks are unable to appreciate their aesthetic and spiritual value. They merely see the parks in dollar terms, as valuable land lying empty and a wasted resource. It’s easy, using their logic, to seek to push the government to release this “wasted” land for building housing, thus bringing enormous profits.
But this push runs against the wishes of ordinary people who treasure country parks as somewhere where their spirit can be recharged.
For the man in the street, pressed down by the burden of working for a living, country parks offer a gasp of air. They will not let cancerous cells eat into the parks.