Transit-Planned Pedestrian Environments: Critical Perspectives on the Evolution, Planning and Informal Use in High-density Transit-centered Asian Urban Areas


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
Award date25 Aug 2020


Over the past three decades, the integration between mass-transit systems and patterns of urban development has increasingly been recognised as a model for environmentally, economic and socially sustainable cities. Transit-centred global Asian cities exemplify planning practices where station area, with a supportive pedestrian network, is set as the backbone of urban form. Besides the pedestrian transit purpose, critical transport and mobility scholarship increasingly recognise the need for problematising the allegedly “sustainable” pedestrian environments planning through the analysis of the transformative potential to integrate mobility and broader socio-political dynamics, as well as the contribution of pedestrian spaces to reclaiming the Right to the City.

This research is set in Hong Kong, a high-density global Asian city with the highest public transport share in the world and with high socio-spatial inequalities. The station-area is analysed as an example of the compact and densely built environment where stations are integrated with a multilevel and multifunctional pedestrian network. To investigate the logics that guided the planning of pedestrian environments, this research reviews through thematic content analysis, the government’s pedestrian space planning and policies from 1997 to 2016. The analysis provides evidence of three different phases of pedestrianisation planning in which the overall purpose of pedestrianisation remains the increase of pedestrian mobility linked with commodification rationale and more recent neoliberal logics. The recent pedestrianisation planning study (2017-2020) is promoted as a more comprehensive approach to pedestrian planning and needs, that could allegedly challenge a car-based mobility paradigm. Through documentary analysis, public engagement participant observations and in-depth interviews with relevant stakeholders, this research provides evidence of the limitations of the current approach transformative character.

Notwithstanding the transit-planned purpose, the increasing scarcity of public open spaces in Hong Kong gives rise to the need for informal use to adapt to spaces originally conceived exclusively to channel pedestrian movements. Two highly representative transit-planned pedestrian environments –one pedestrianised street and one elevated pedestrian network– are examined to investigate the informal and social use by the migrant domestic workers, a low-income group that is part of the global city. Through environment-behaviour methods, the findings highlight the permanence of informal uses, the importance of the shaded incidental seating space, the prevalence of socially oriented activities and the importance of food as a gathering factor.

The theoretical implications of this research point at the possibility of the proposed critical framework to examine other urban transport projects in similar global cities contexts. The empirical implications extend beyond Hong Kong, to other global Asian cities where socially constructed places may indicate alternative ways of planning transit-spaces.