New Heart New Territory
As Hong Kong hurtles towards closer ties with mainland China and the adjacent city of Shenzhen becomes a new global development superstar, the New Territories area finds itself in a new and unique position, sandwiched between twin urban mega-centres at the heart of a population of 20 million people. What used to be development considered far from the urban centre will in future be at its very core. Developers are grappling to exploit the simple opportunities that abound, yet the protected habitats, heritage communities, and vast, accessible green space offer tremendous potential health benefits and urban density solutions. The landscape of the New Territories could form the centre of truly smart urban growth as we move into the latter half of the 21st Century. But enlightened vision and careful land management are essential. Are the processes in place to think beyond short term boundaries and create a united and liveable city?
CENTRE OF THE WORLD
A quick internet search of ‘Hong Kong Map’ reveals just what you expect to see - Hong Kong. But in so many cases just Hong Kong alone. There are no islands in the South China Sea, no Dapeng Peninsula across Mirs Bay to the north east, no mouth to the Pearl River at the north west. Seeing maps of the Territory floating in a sea of nothing in the pre-internet age was so normal that it felt almost a reality, after all there was only farmland and emptiness outside the border, wasn’t there?
BORDERS OF FLUX
Borders can be seen to be complex and dynamic phenomena, that continually change related to multifaceted cultural, economic, social and environmental issues (Lundquist & Trippl, 2013). The Hong Kong - China border has indeed been in continual evolution ever since establishment.
Initially, just Hong Kong Island and its harbour were formally ceded to the United Kingdom in 1842, however it was only 18 years later that the Territory expanded when the part of Kowloon south of Boundary Street, together with Stonecutters Island, were then ceded in 1860. The area remained largely undeveloped with the boundary depicted by a long line of high bamboo fences, intended to restrict smuggling between Chinese and British Kowloon at that time.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong started to make further incursions across the China border when the joint immigration and customs facilities of the Shenzhen Bay Port, were established on China territory north of the Shenzhen Bay Bridge under land lease, and administered as a part of Hong Kong. Similarly, areas at the soon to open West Kowloon Railway Station are designated as ‘Mainland Port Area’ and a train compartment in operation on the Hong Kong Section of the Express Rail Link is to be regarded as part of the Mainland Port Area
Another important border, this time to the north of the Shenzhen River, was the city border of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (SEZ) usually called “Erxianguan”, established in 1980 to kickstart market economics within the ideals of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’. The SEZ border had strong similarities with the FCA, reflecting the fences, guards, checkpoints and ports of entry, along with requirements for Entry Permits. Officially abolished in 2010 the boundary land is currently under a period of repurposing with the roadblocks and most checkpoints having been removed. Whilst parts of the border located on mountainside have already been transformed, renewal for much of the larger sites is ongoing and aims to adapt them to a linear ‘urban greenway’ for connected recreation.
So, the border relationship between Hong Kong and China has never been set in stone and unlikely ever will be. With the continued need for accommodating burgeoning populations on both sides, combined with regional integration and technological monitoring advancements, it seems foreseeable that continued manipulations of the Hong Kong – Shenzhen border are inevitable. How then can communities and facilities on both sides be integrated? Where is the long-term vision on how to prepare for such scenarios? How could many of Hong Kong’s issues related to cross border migration and housing shortage be pro-actively addressed?
THE BIRTH OF URBAN PARKS
London’s largest urban park is however Lee Valley Regional Park, winding from the distant northern suburbs to the heart of the City. Extensively criss-crossed by roads and railways it was planned as a legacy of the Olympic Games, created by a visionary and unique Act of Parliament to be a “green lung” for London, Essex and Hertfordshire. It is made up of a diverse mix of countryside areas, urban green spaces, heritage sites, country parks, nature reserves and lakes and riverside trails, as well as leading sports centres covering an area of over 10,000 acres (40 km2). (Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, 2018). Most importantly the park has acted as the green infrastructure needed to shape surrounding and ongoing urban renewal and stands as a classic example of conservation lead development within a public-private partnership model. It’s now well accepted that there is a significant link between the value of real estate and its proximity to parks, greenbelts and other green spaces.
LANDSCAPE AS LAND SHAPER
The potential opportunities for green/blue infrastructure, to proactively shape other infrastructure development and housing provision through regional and cross border landscape planning are manifest, where the approach of biodiversity conservation in particular, must go beyond administrative borders and be holistic in accommodating conservation along with sustainable development.
There are of course huge issues of resistance in stitching border areas, but as was learnt from the case of reunification of Berlin it takes a generation of change to balance cultural, social and economic disparities. Therefore, long-term preparation for border integration is important and existing models and approaches such as cross-border regional innovation systems (CBRIS) and innovation-driven integration processes, whilst serving as a useful starting point in guiding more systematic and comparative work need much further development. A three-stage process of border integration might be anticipated, from that of weak integration, through semi-integration and finally to strong integration (Lundquist & Trippl, 2013). For Hong Kong to futureproof itself for potential border integration by 2047, there remain just 30 years to adapt through such processes, starting with ‘integrated cross-border planning’, which is just now being initiated, moving thorough ‘border area joint regulation and development’ and finally a fusion of both sides. In order to achieve this, it may be time to once again establish a new set of temporary borders or an “integrated border zone” that includes both Shenzhen and Hong Kong Territory, has unique and special characteristics and facilitates joint and co-ordinated regulations and development on both sides of the existing. A ‘two cities one system’ area shaped through landscape.
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).
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