In Hong Kong, the intensive use of the territory and the lack of available land for development have determined an intense form of vertical urbanism where public spaces have never been a key component of the urban development (Rossini, 2014, 2018). Several studies have indicated the importance of public open spaces in creating leisure opportunities as well as in connecting people and the community as a whole. Unfortunately, however, as argued by Xue and Manuel (2001), in Hong Kong, city planning strategies have not been effective in creating comprehensive plans for the development of this critical urban resource. Limited land supply and laissez-faire government policy have adversely affected the availability of open spaces in core urban areas, as well as their spatial qualities. That being said, the lack of an inclusive planning vision has generated several unconventional, unplanned, and residual spaces that may be strategically used to increase the amount of available open spaces in urban areas.
In this regard, Hong Kong offers the possibility to rethink the role of forgotten spaces such as back alleys, buffer zones, and vacant land and to experiment with alternative approaches that could potentially attract and retain public space users while improving the perception and the quality of the urban environment. These undesignated areas resulting from the limitations of the established planning system may be seen as ‘creative escapes’ (Levesque 2013) that are suitable for the development of spontaneous social activities and community participation.
As indicated by several studies, the active engagement of citizens could add a new social dimension to these lifeless areas, thereby generating a novel sense of place. In Place: An Introduction, the geographer Tim Cresswell (2004) argues that place can be conceived in radically open and dynamic ways. Place, in his view, is the raw material for the creative production of identity rather than an a priori label of identity; it provides the opportunity for creative social practice. In fact, the transformation of space through collective actions and incremental, small-scale adaptations can produce significant effects on placemaking.