Planners squander chance to build ideal urban environments in city

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 July, 2015, 3:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 July, 2015, 3:30pm

As air pollution and road congestion continue to worsen, and as private car ownership continues to rise at an alarming rate, public transport and walkability must take top priority in Hong Kong's urban expansion.

The scale of new development at Kai Tak and Hung Shui Kiu represents a tremendous opportunity to build ideal urban environments from scratch. Unfortunately, planners are squandering that opportunity.

Hong Kong is a world leader in the integration of railway infrastructure and urban development, that is, transited-oriented development (TOD), resulting in some of the highest public transport ridership rates in the world.

Our transit-oriented, mixed-use, highly intense urban model is unique and has helped render our high population density sustainable.

So why don't we build on these strengths? The latest generation of new towns suffer from a host of design flaws. Many of the same mistakes are being made again in new development areas.

The new MTR stations in Kai Tak and Hung Shui Kiu will be set within vast plazas with no topside development. The planners behind the Hung Shui Kiu plan boast that the plaza will be lined with shops. But the proposed space measures 175 by 500 metres - about the same length as Tiananmen Square between the Gate of Heavenly Peace and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong . A few streetside shops cannot generate vitality in such a massive space. Furthermore, residents will not take the MTR if it is not the most convenient and accessible option. Many TODs of the past have left something to be desired, but let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

In contrast to mixed-use, vibrant older neighbourhoods, new residential and commercial areas have been compartmentalised within an incoherent mass of dead-end streets. In Tin Shui Wai, social ills have been partly attributed to low-income residents being siloed into insular estates with little opportunity for upward mobility.

Strict segregation of land use developed in the 1960s as a response to local industrial pollution. Now that most manufacturing has left Hong Kong, there is little rationale to this approach. It runs contrary to modern planning thought, which seeks to build balanced communities. Why has this been adopted for Kai Tak?

Walkability, density, mixed-use urbanity, and public transport collectively form the foundation of Hong Kong's urban sustainability. In new development areas, let's build on our strengths; our TODs are the envy of the rest of the world.

Stefan Krummeck, director, TFP Farrells Limited