Dynamic planning approach essential for harbourfront

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 August, 2010, 12:00am

I have read a number of letters in these columns of late on design visions for the Central harbourfront.

However, we need more than design visions to realise good urban design and a vibrant waterfront in Hong Kong.

We need strong political will and a system of applicable planning implementation mechanisms.

The issue on the planning and development of Victoria Harbour has been ongoing since the early 1990s.

Yet despite the many design visions, government studies and community input, we are no nearer to realising a vision for the harbourfront.

At present, the only major waterfront project that is under way is Kowloon station, which with its huge concrete complex resembles a modern version of Stonehenge.

In other developed cities like San Francisco there is a system of adopted local urban design plans and guidelines.

When drawing up plans, architects must take into account the urban environment, including open spaces and public amenities.

In one Asian city, when there is a major land sale, the bids are evaluated first on the basis of the design submitted and its public merits and then the tender prices are considered.

It is also not uncommon for some city authorities to work together with architects and developers to arrive at quality designs, which are of benefit to the community as a whole.

This is what happened with the site for the United Nations headquarters building in East 42nd Street, New York.

On the mainland, local governments in cities like Qingdao , Hangzhou and Wuxi , among others, have invested heavily to enhance the landscaping of their waterfronts.

The current outline zoning plans and lease conditions systems in Hong Kong are two-dimensional land-use planning controls and will not lead to the creation of a quality urban environment. Government initiatives have been limited.

In short, we need a more dynamic planning and development approach with strong political support, a new legal framework, community support, public entrepreneurship and a proactive urban design process.

Above all, the government must allocate a more generous budget for enhanced urban spaces and landscaping.

We need a forward-looking management review of alternative methods of implementing projects.

This review must reflect the current political, social and economic systems in Hong Kong.

Perhaps the Development Bureau and the newly founded Hong Kong Institute of Urban Design could explore these issues to improve our urban design environment so that it is worthy of the high land values at the harbourfront.

Ho Chi-wing, Central