Concrete Analysis

Optimising Hong Kong’s development

‘The starting point has to be a strategic vision and the ability to define the project positioning and its ultimate objectives’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 October, 2017, 7:47am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 October, 2017, 7:44pm

As Hong Kong embarks on a raft of initiatives targeted towards achieving its 2030+ strategy and seeks to participate in the Greater Bay Area opportunities, I think it is essential that all projects embrace a set of principles and guidelines that benefit and facilitate their sustainability and deliver liveable environments.

These projects include the development of northern Lantau, the creation of a Sky City at Chek Lap Kok, the further transformation of Kowloon East into a core district, the new towns in the New Territories as well as the proposed East Lantau Metropolis. Such guidelines may involve, as an initial step, creating a specific, special design regime to enable the optimum way forward and each project will certainly need to identify an appropriate “champion” and structure to lead and deliver the hoped for outcomes.

The starting point has to be a strategic vision and the ability to define the project positioning and its ultimate objectives. It is important that all projects create both economic and social value as well as serving as exemplars of urban design excellence and reflecting local characteristics. It will also be important to manage public expectations and maintain flexibility whenever possible to accommodate the needs of today’s rapidly changing world.

The next step should be to engage all stakeholders (residents, businesses, local councils, etc) including those in neighbouring areas, and adopt a collaborative approach to the design and implementation of all projects. All opinions should be respected and responded to (even if only to explain why they are not feasible) and ongoing lines of communication established so that a continuous dialogue can be maintained.

Technical and financial feasibility are obviously vital as well as recognition of market forces – there is no point building facilities, no matter how well designed if there is no end-user demand. Projects should meet currently unmet demand and consider affordability while responding to consumer aspirations and demonstrating “buildability” and optimum phasing. Competition from new proposals in surrounding areas and the incremental impact of such on available infrastructure should also be considered and addressed as appropriate.

Experience has indicated that a collaborative approach to development is often necessary from the perspectives of both funding and expertise; however, joint ventures and alliances are complex entities and need careful and ongoing management. It is important that all involved reach a common understanding of the objectives, goals, timing and outcomes and that a clear policy, planning, decision and delivery framework is both agree and followed. It is also worth spending time and engaging experts and consultants with relevant skills to identify the optimum business structure, and identify and mitigate development risks.

Sustainability and maximum environmental standards have to underlie and support all planning and design. The principles of low carbon, community diversity together with “green” and healthy buildings and infrastructure all need to be adopted together with tenure and management structures and procedures that ensure economic, social and sustainable outcomes. Part of the sustainability challenge is to ensure appropriate scale and density – overly large blocks and podia should be avoided as they can lead to isolation and do not promote people-friendly environments. This principle also applies to infrastructure elements, the impact of which should be minimised through innovative design solutions.

Public participation has already been identified as an essential part of the future delivery process but equally developers and their design consultants need to ensure that they design for people for which the projects are being built. They need to adopt a place making approach and create accessible, attractive and welcoming public open spaces. People need to feel comfortable in their surroundings (from both a scale and security perspective) and it is essential to maintain human scale streetscapes and active street life, with wide pavements and ground level retail and food and beverage outlets, to ensure liveability. Community connectivity with both high quality landscaping and well-designed pedestrian routes should integrate buildings and public open space and a sense of belonging.

Many of the development with which Hong Kong will be involved during the coming decade will be mixed use in nature. This is a type of development with which the city is familiar but nonetheless is complex to deliver well – more of a skill than a science. Holistic, integrated and long-term planning which embraces not just land use but also heritage, culture, biodiversity, social and liveability needs is essential while ensuring a virtual circle of self-generating, market responding activities. The management and operational challenges associated with mixed use projects also need to be understood while maintaining sufficient flexibility to reflect future commercial and lifestyle changes, the exact form and extent of which are currently impossible to assess.

Quality infrastructure is clearly a key requirement and needs to be integrated with surrounding districts and neighbourhoods. Multiple transportation modes are essential, and again their integration with local, regional and national rail and road routes will be a major success factor. Pedestrian connectivity should ideally be achieved at grade but footbridges and, as a last resort, underpasses can make helpful connectivity contributions. Car use, unless electric vehicles, should be limited to minimise adverse emissions wherever possible with underground parking provided wherever financially and technically viable. All infrastructure provision should be adequate for future growth and incorporated into overall project design so that it is not visually or physically disruptive.

Good design ultimately does not cost more and can deliver premium results, particularly if the community is involved from the outset in the urban layout and lifestyle framework. Changing aspirations and lifestyles which could potentially be brought about by new and developing technologies also need to be accommodated and there should be understanding and allowance for redundancy as well as plans for resilience and responses to climate change. In addition, there is a need to identify appropriate public versus private models which can deliver successful outcomes.

There is also the opportunity to access organisations such as Urban Land Institute and Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors which can bring to bear best practices and the benefits of international experience. Clearly there is much to be done but the potential upside and contribution to the well being of Hong Kong and its future generations far exceeds the efforts involved.

Nicholas Brooke is chairman of Professional Property Services Limited