Decentralised hubs make for liveable city
With plans under way to turn Kowloon Bay and Kwun Tong into Hong Kong's third-largest commercial district by 2010, the market is decentralising to compensate for the lack of large floor-plate commercial stock in our central business district.
This is good news for Hong Kong, as creating new business districts is the first step to easing the market pressures caused by soaring office rents, shortage of land, and traffic congestion in Central. Prospective tenants will be provided with more price and space options, which will help improve Hong Kong's competitiveness and efficiency.
Yet this trend is about much more than just providing office space. It is a golden opportunity to help create a more liveable Hong Kong.
Cities such as Tokyo, New York and Barcelona have all achieved success through decentralising their business districts as an urban planning and economic development strategy, yet Hong Kong is unlike any of these places. In our case, the harbour presents a significant barrier to the connectivity of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. There are currently only three road crossings, two rail crossings and nine ferry crossings. Although these address some of the key commuting flows, they are insufficient for business travel.
To expand the CBD successfully throughout the shorelines, we need to minimise point-to-point travel time with a dramatic increase in the array of cross-harbour transportation, including additional rail, road and ferry crossings, as well as water taxis and small vessel services.
By thoroughly interconnecting the shores of Victoria Harbour from Kwai Chung to Kwun Tong and from Kennedy Town to Shau Kei Wan, the entire harbour district can in essence become the CBD of the Pearl River Delta. Central can be allowed to breathe again.
We must recognise the topographic reality of Hong Kong and its natural constraints to development. Central is the narrowest part of the land available for development along the shores of Victoria Harbour. Gridlock and an increasing choking of the area have been the repercussions of packing too much in too little space.
Extending the web of the CBD will divert development and congestion away from the choke points. New market opportunities will appear in newly-connected areas as competition increases with easier access, while interesting new uses of land sprout up and mix in with commercial areas to create a better live-work-play balance.
The spreading of development will create places of attraction for residents and tourists alike along the entire north and south shorelines. These areas will bolster the limited tourist zones we have and increase our capacity to entertain more visitors. And the variety of water-borne transportation will themselves become tourist attractions, turning Victoria Harbour into an exciting hub for business, tourism and recreation in the Pearl River Delta.
Paul Zimmerman is convenor of Designing Hong Kong Harbour District