First it was the impending change of sovereignty, then the impact of the economic downturn, now the prospect of political change. One way or another, the future of Hong Kong has long been the subject of anxious debate. But the drive to confront the major challenges our city faces and to come up with answers has gathered momentum since the July 1 demonstration by half a million people. That march, and the chain of events it set in motion, has prompted a great deal of soul-searching about the direction Hong Kong should take. The level of concern across a wide spectrum of society was plain to see at a conference held yesterday with the theme 'Hong Kong's Past, Hong Kong's Future: More than an Economic City'. Organised by three independent think tanks, with the South China Morning Post one of the sponsors, the conference sought to explore the problems facing us as we look to reposition ourselves at a time of continuing change. Attended by more than 400 people, including academics, business people, government officials, students, media representatives and other citizens from different walks of life, the discussions made two things clear. The first is that Hong Kong people are worried about the future for a variety of reasons and agree that changes will have to be made. One participant aptly described our city as being like a patient who is undergoing intense psychoanalysis, but does not appear to be making much progress. The second, related conclusion that can be drawn from the energetic brainstorming session is that people here really care about what happens to our city and are prepared to make their views known. This, in itself, is heartening. It demonstrates that Hong Kong is indeed more than an economic city, it is one in which people are becoming increasingly aware of political issues and interested in contributing to the debate. It is not surprising that the focus was on how to secure a healthy economic future while at the same time ushering in appropriate political reform - how to play a greater role as a Chinese city while ensuring we do not allow our international character to be eroded. These are, after all, the fundamental questions that need to be answered. A bewildering smorgasbord of ideas was presented, from turning Hong Kong into 'Asia's Switzerland' to focusing on how we can best help the mainland. It cannot, however, be said that the conference provided any magical solution or even a clear road map for the way ahead. Such an expectation would be unrealistic. The value of the debate lay in the psychoanalysis itself and the enthusiasm with which those who attended entered into it. The challenge now is to harness this energy and use it to provide for a better future.