Kai Tak River Green Corridor was a finalist for the 2nd International Award for Public Art.

Wallace Ping Hung Chang’s Kai Tak River Green Corridor (KTRGC) project brings environmental awareness and action to what used to be one of the most polluted stretches of water in Hong Kong. By staging participatory art projects along the river during the 2011 Green Arts Festival, KTRGC brought new life to the area, building ties between residents and the environment.

KTRGC brings sorely needed environmental awareness to a river so poisoned that the odious smells emanating from it caused the government to draw up plans to pave over the waterway with concrete. But grassroots activists, including the project lead, architecture professor Wallace Chang, rigorously opposed that proposal. Instead, they argued for the waterway to be transformed into a green corridor.

Through negotiations with district councilors, Chang was invited to explore alternatives to the government decision to cover the river. A change of chairperson in the district council near the end of 2007 provided time for the Community Alliance of Kai Tak to flesh out a framework for KTRGC. Eventually, Chang and others organized a series of artistic and educational projects, receiving funding from the Arts Development Council in 2009 and the Environmental Conservation Fund in 2011, to instigate international artist residencies and participatory arts events in partnership with 17 local schools.

By staging cultural activities—for example, exhibiting the participatory art projects along the river during the 2011 Green Arts Festival—KTRGC built ties between residents and the environment. KTRGC also instilled in students an interest in the state of the environment and the future of Hong Kong, a city with extensive water and air pollution problems.

The project stands out as a highly successful creative placemaking intervention and an example of community-driven spatial planning. The project succeeded by helping create new relationships between activists, government officials, and agencies; establishing new, open-space zoning for the area, which allows it to be used as a public park; and cleaning the river. Today the offensive smell is gone, and wildlife, birds and fish are returning to reside in and alongside the waterway.

KTRGC, which received the 2013 Hong Kong Arts Development Award, demonstrates how artists and artistic activities can blend with other disciplines such as environmental science and education, political administration, and spatial planning to successfully transform public spaces.

Leon Tan, PH.D., is an arts and culture critic, educator, and psychotherapist. A member of the International Association of Art Critics, Tan writes on contemporary art and culture, teaches art history and theory, and maintains a small clinical practice.

Featured in Public Art Review #52.