HONG KONG -- When it comes to improving a city’s accessibility, those big projects concerning trains, planes and automobiles seem to dominate the conversation.
So Hong Kong was not sure what to make of the announcement last month that the government would soon start building, of all things, a “city of lifts.”
Is there something really so strange about a high-profile announcement that Hong Kong will be installing 230 outdoor elevators over the coming years?
Well, it’s probably because elevators are just so … unsexy.
But the fact is such a project could make a big difference in the mountainous territory for the growing population of elderly people, as well as others who have trouble getting around. Anyone who wants to see an elevator installed somewhere can send in a request.
“The sum of this social investment is relatively big, but I believe it'll be welcomed by the aged, the physically disabled and children,” said C.Y. Leung, Hong Kong’s top official in an official announcement at a facility for the elderly.
He said that the government had been criticized over a previous policy to install ramps on slopes.
The government expects to spend $12.5 million on initial planning, and then $125 million per year to build the facilities.
The city faces all kinds of pressing problems, like superexpensive housing and pollution, but some say that building elevators is a fast and easy way to improve lives.
“To eradicate poverty and improve the city's low-income housing stock are tough, long-term challenges; it is much easier to improve pedestrian access, which would benefit the disadvantaged among us the most,” wrote Christine Loh, head of the think tank Civic Exchange, in an editorial for the South China Morning Post.
Hong Kong’s topography has always challenged planners and has inspired feats of engineering. The city center has one of the world’s longest set of outdoor escalators, for example, that transports over 50,000 commuters up and down a hill each day.
And as with the rest of the world, and especially Asia, the local population is aging. According to the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, in mid-2008, the population of people above 65 was 12.6%. That population is expected to reach 14% by 2016 and 27% in 2033.
Mr. Cheung, a 65-year-old security guard, said such a plan has to be a good thing, especially since so many housing estates are built on hills. “It is hard for old people to walk up those areas. It would be helpful to build elevators that go up to the walkways leading to their buildings,” he said while sitting on a the step of the steep sidewalk outside the building he was guarding.
"Poor and rich areas, it doesn't matter. They all cost a fortune. And they're built along slopes."