The rush towards urbanisation has solved some problems, but it has created others As the population soared in the 1960s, urban areas became more cramped. At the same time, people were making more money and expectations were rising. There was only one solution; the government looked beyond Lion Rock for land on which to create new towns. Today, about half the city's 6.8 million people are living in the New Territories, many of them in soaring towers on what were not long ago paddy fields or fish farms. Fifty years ago, few city-dwellers could contemplate moving into backward rural areas which were mainly farmlands or undeveloped, desolate moorlands. Some sprawling developments, such as Sha Tin, were under water. Others, such as Tin Shui Wai, were swampy wastelands. 'Nowadays, residents in the new towns enjoy a much better living environment than in the old urban districts such as in Shamshuipo,' says Lam Wing-yuen, senior government town planner. He says future new towns will move to the north near the border because of the availability of land and the potential to develop more commercial activities there. Fanling North, Hung Sui Kiu and Kwu Tung North have been identified as the most suitable sites for building the next generation of towns to house 280,000 people. Instead of simply meeting housing needs, the department also takes into consideration support facilities to develop business in new towns, such as logistics, given the northern New Territories' proximity to the border. 'Providing the environment and facilities for commercial activities also means job opportunities so residents do not have to travel all the way to the urban districts for work - that saves both their time and transport expenses,' Mr Lam says. But he admits it will take three to five years for the government to acquire the land in the three areas, as much of it is privately owned and is now used as farmland, villages and open storage. It takes from 10 to 12 years to create a new town, according to Mr Lam. He says people's living expectations have changed over time. Instead of simply housing people, the department adds more new elements to its future town planning, taking especial heed of environmental concerns. For example, the department plans to completely separate vehicles from residents in future by building all the major traffic lanes underground, thus enhancing road safety and air quality. The plot ratio of housing will also drop to lower population density, and the department will try to avoid development in conservation zones. Recounting the town planning history of Hong Kong, Mr Lam says Western district and Shamshuipo were some of the major residential and commercial areas in Hong Kong before 1949 - the year China became communist. In the 1950s and 1960s, the government developed Kwun Tong and San Po Kong as both industrial and residential areas to encourage manufacturing industries, Mr Lam says. In 1973, the government launched a massive urbanisation of the New Territories by building new towns to house the population. Major projects included Sha Tin, Tuen Mun and Tsuen Wan - which Mr Lam describes as the first generation of new towns. In the 1980s, the development extended to Tai Po, Sheung Shui and Fanling, which were along the rail line. In the 1990s, Ma On Shan, Tin Shui Wai and Tseung Kwan O were selected and the development of those new towns is ongoing. Mr Lam says the original idea behind building new towns was to build a 'self-sufficient' environment for residents to live and work in the same neighbourhood. Major facilities and infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, shopping centres, markets and facilities for leisure activities were built. Transport between the 'old' new towns such as Tuen Mun and urban districts was inconvenient when they were first built because the government believed residents could find jobs in those areas. But the government changed its strategies after industries moved out of Hong Kong to the north. Many factories closed after the 1980s, and the government started to see the need for mass transport for residents to travel daily to the urban areas for work. Despite the government's success in moving people out of urban districts, crime trends in those new towns are raising fears that they are satellite slums in the making. Queenie Yuen Kwun-ying, community education officer of Harmony House, which provides counselling and shelter for battered spouses, said the remote location of the new towns and the travel costs had discouraged couples from seeking support from their friends and other family members living outside the family core.