Hong Kong has a land crisis, but it goes beyond mere availability. Not only does there seem to be a fundamental lack of consensus in the actual quantity of new land creation required, if in fact new land is required at all, but more than that, there appears to be a fundamental flaw in the development decision making process.
Despite the concerns continually voiced by professionals and public alike about the lack of quality objectives, solid data and visionary thinking in a changing world that should inspire the population and justify key decision making, Hong Kong just cannot break away from building by numbers.
THE DEVELOPMENT PRECEDENT
Hong Kong develops. That’s what it does. It builds and expands and has done so for its entire history. But to what end? After all this growth experience, wealth creation, employment generation and skills development you would have thought the city would, by now, have been able to develop the best living experience money can buy? But no, the mass of the population is seriously unhappy. In fact, they are the least happy people in the developed world and even less happy than most of the populous of the developing world.
The development of the New Towns since the 1970’s has been mostly built on reclamation including Tuen Mun, Tai Po, Sha Tin, Ma On Shan, West Kowloon, Kwun Tong and Tseung Kwan O. The first phase new towns were primarily aimed at providing housing for the more than a million people living in temporary shacks on hillsides and on boats in typhoon shelters, as well as addressing the continuous migration of refugees from China. The simple, fast techniques for establishing such extensive housing areas at that time were a necessary and bold response to a serious and continued crisis on a huge scale.
IS THE 2030+ VISION VISIONARY?
Today’s land crisis is unlike that of the 1970’s. However, we still address it in the same, economic and quantitive terms. Reading the pages of the government’s ‘long term’ policy vision document, “Hong Kong 2030+: Towards a Planning Vision and Strategy Transcending 2030," amongst the plethora of statistics, benchmarks and generalities, one word is conspicuous in its almost total absence, “quality”.
DEVELOPMENT IN THE RIGHT PLACE
Which brings me to land supply. The current discussion has become overly politicised and focused on rapidly objectifying a dubious target of 1200-hectares of land most easily available for housing rather than taking an approach that identifies specific land units that are clearly the best and most appropriate to create quality mass housing. Is the tail wagging the dog? A numbers game again rather than being about the optimum use of limited resources. In all cases the tenet of “right development in the right place” should be adhered to in order to ensure finite land resources are utilised appropriately and optimally.
HOUSING OR QUALITY HOUSING
Public housing models developed over the last 50 years have typically been based on household sizes of over 5 persons. This has been falling rapidly in the last 20 years, and households now average 2.8 persons meaning more space per person but more demand for units. The move towards single person living is a clear trend meaning Hong Kong public housing size models are no longer fit for the future, regardless of other systematic failings regarding availability and occupancy. With more new towns already in the pipeline will we get the housing mix right? Kwu Tung North, Fanling North and Hung Shui Kiu are targeted for about 400,000 people; further expansions at Yuen Long South; Kam Tin South; Tung Chung Extension; and Kai Tak – Kowloon East should provide another 400,000 population. These new developments should include a majority percentage of single and double occupancy units which would mean upwards of 400,000 units that could and should already be on track. But what is are the living quality aspirations beyond the norm for these new communities?
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
With the large-scale changes to the logistics industry resulting from the development of port facilities both in Shenzhen and within the Greater Bay Area, strategic re-evaluation of the extensive land supply dedicated to this industry, particularly the container terminals in existing integrated urban areas, would appear more expedient, whilst providing opportunities for extensive, mixed development on sustainable principles. In the face of such opportunities, high risk approaches on greenfield or isolated sites like islands off East Lantau would appear misplaced.
Barry Wilson is an Urban Designer, Landscape Architect, part time professor, public speaker, writer, climate reality leader and advocate for change.
Barry Wilson Project Initiatives Ltd have been tackling urbanisation issues in Hong Kong and China for over 20 years. (www.initiatives.com.hk).
The Land : Public or Private - Who Cares?
Hong Kong to Benefit by Revitalising Water Bodies
Return Healthy Streets to the People
Has Housing Reached a New Tipping Point?
 Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2018). World Happiness Report 2018, New York:Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
 City of Vancouver. (2018). Greenest City goals. See: https://vancouver.ca/green-vancouver/greenest-city-goals-targets.aspx
 The Straits Times. (1967). S'pore to become beautiful, clean city within three years. See http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19670512-1.2.20
 Smart Nation Singapore. (2018). Smart Nation Singapore. See https://www.smartnation.sg/
 Garfield L (2017) Only 20% of Americans Will Own a Car in 15 Years, New Study Finds. Business Insider, Singapore. See https://www.businessinsider.sg/no-one-will-own-a-car-in-the-future-2017-5/?r=US&IR=T (accessed 16/05/2018).