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Urban planning

The idyllic Hong Kong town that exists only in the minds of a group of architecture students – for now

Group from Technological and Higher Education Institute sees return to rural ways as perfect plan for new development in city’s far north

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 August, 2018, 10:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2018, 11:00am

This 450-hectare new town in Hong Kong’s far north is unlike any other in the city. Here life is idyllic.

Residents grow their own food nearby, the hillside is covered with carpets of fresh green tea terraces, visitors ride through orchards on horseback, and people live in harmony with birds, cows and fireflies.

There is only one problem: the town has not been built yet.

The bucolic lifestyle is envisioned by a group of landscape architecture students and graduates in their proposed agriculture-themed planning for the unbuilt spaces in the Kwu Tung North new development area.

Together with Fanling North, the two new towns are part of what was known as the North East New Territories New Development Areas.

On its own, Kwu Tung North will provide some 70 hectares of residential land for 110,000 people, 30 hectares of open spaces, 125 hectares of green belts and 80 hectares of agricultural zones. The government is now acquiring privately owned land in the areas for development.

There has not been detailed planning for the open spaces, green belt and agricultural land, which is where the six-person group from the Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong (THEI) come in with their proposal.

The project is organised by non-governmental group Asian-habitat Society.

We cannot rely on others all the time, we need to have our own produce
Lecturer Paul Chan

“When we talked about the coexistence of urban and rural lives in the past, we often meant adding more green spaces in a town,” Carrie Chan Wai-yi, a member of the group, said. “But our proposal looks at how to preserve local history, culture and sceneries, and make them an integral part of a new town.”

Kwu Tung is known for vast stretches of farmland and local produce. The new town plan has spawned controversy since it was introduced to the public in 2008, with many worried about significant damages to local agriculture and rural life.

Under the group’s proposal, the total area for agriculture will increase to 100 hectares with contributions from some of the open spaces and green belt land. These sites, located on hillsides, through towns and along and between the Sheung Yue and Ng Tung rivers, will become seven themed agricultural zones in the proposal, providing ecological, recreational and productive farming.

For example, a cross-shaped park running through the main part of the town will contain community farms, playgrounds, gardens and paths, where people can view the hillside tea terraces.

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A park on the side of Fung Kong hill will feature tea gardens, a piece of “forgotten history” of the area. There will also be demonstrations of local Hakka culture such as harvesting, food processing and traditional festivals.

A paddy field park is proposed in Ho Sheung Heung, a village near the Long Valley wetland which traces its roots back to 1368. Rice growing, Chan said, used to be a main industry in the area.

To revive the underused Lo Wu Saddle Club in the area, horse riding routes can be devised through the tea gardens, orchards and paddy fields, so visitors can take in a diversity of changing agriculture views.

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Community-supported agriculture, Chan said, would be a main theme of the seven zones, where users would grow and share their produce. The group estimated that the zones would produce 65 tonnes of rice a year, enough to supply 100,000 people for almost six days, as well as 5,800 tonnes of vegetables per year, accounting for half of the population’s daily vegetable intake.

The group’s supervisor, THEI landscape architecture lecturer Paul Chan Yuen-king, said the proposal had not only provided a new possibility of planning in accordance with local characteristics, but had also answered the government’s policy of reviving local agriculture industry.

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“We cannot rely on others all the time,” he said. “We need to have our own produce.”

Chan, who is also a former vice-president of the Hong Kong Institute of Landscape Architects, added that increasing the supply of local produce could help reduce the carbon footprint caused by importing them. Chan is also Asian-habitat’s executive director in Hong Kong.

The proposal will be exhibited at THEI on August 17. Chan said the group would invite officials from different government departments to the exhibition and discuss with them the possibility of adopting the plan.