Concrete Analysis

Housing is just one facet of Hong Kong’s liveable city agenda

Community dialogue and quality of life should be the top priorities for city planners

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2016, 4:04pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2016, 7:54pm

In a recent article I made the point that the main thrust of any liveable city agenda is the provision of adequate and affordable housing for all sectors of the community. However, there is much more to a liveable city and to quality of life than simply housing and whilst “smart” initiatives are often portrayed as the modern solution to the challenges of urban living, in my view “smart” is only one component of the overall matrix.

In fact, in order to address quality of life issues we need to consider a whole range of factors including urban mobility, air and water quality, waste and energy management, resilience, standards of wellness and health care, friendly ageing policies, education options, adequate and attractive open spaces, sport and recreational amenities and how we plan and design the built environment and cater for the needs of future generations.

“Smart” can provide technological improvements and connectivity but there is the potential risk of Smart for Smart’s sake and a failure to address the fundamental root causes of much of the discontent in modern society.

Smart hardware solutions are helpful and contribute to productivity and efficiency, but there are other “soft” aspects that require different approaches and responses.

At a recent APEC symposium on urban mobility the impact of autonomous vehicles was discussed, not only from the perspective of improved road safety and greater convenience, but also from the potential impact on the planning and design of future cities.

If and when such technologies are widely accepted and with the projected move from ownership to shared usage, it is estimated that there could be 50 per cent or more less cars on the roads, 30 per cent of space currently occupied by roads would be available for other uses and there will be a corresponding 50 per cent reduction in the need for car parking spaces.

Singapore, for instance, estimates that car ownership could fall from 900,000 to 300,000 cars if autonomous travel was to become generally accepted. This, of course, assumes general acceptance by all age groups not only of driverless cars but also their shared use which is envisaged under the above scenario.

There are also major employment and redeployment challenges that will need to be addressed. This in its way is a perfect case study of how smart technology can bring major benefits but is only part of the story when it comes to improving quality of life.

The need to address all aspects of urban mobility is just one example of the need for a holistic approach to overall city planning and management in that all liveable city components have an impact on, and need to be integrated with, each other.

There needs to be a dialogue in the community to establish quality of life priorities and to reflect these in a vision for the city going forward. It is to be hoped that the 2030+ study which is due for release in the near future will offer some sense of direction but there is a risk that it will be land use supply and economic growth centric and will not deal with the softer aspects of liveability and quality of life.

In the meantime, while planning for the future, we also need to address management of the existing urban fabric and built environment, in that even common sense improvements, such as charging for waste, have become politicised and implementation delayed to the detriment of all.

If Legco continues to see its role as being to oppose government policies and initiatives, perhaps we may need to look at separating the roles of “state” and “city” and creating an administrative body which, working with the district councils, would become responsible for matters relevant to the daily running of the city and the quality of life of its residents. External relations and policy making would continue to vest at “state” level whilst implementation i.e. the work of many of the current government departments, would be handled at a “city” level under the leadership of a good chief executive or town manager.

It will be interesting to see which of the prospective chief executive candidates understands and appreciates the importance of liveability for the people of Hong Kong.

The author is chairman of Professional Property Services Group