Concrete Analysis

Asian cities redraw urban boundaries

Lack of space for expansion in core urban areas is pushing planners towards creating new industry hubs and decentralised office areas

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 April, 2015, 6:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 April, 2015, 6:00am

Simultaneously dense, sprawling and heterogeneous, Asia's gateway cities of Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore are all driving forces in the Asia-Pacific economy.

Within the overall geographical reconfiguration of the operation of business, town planners in Asia's gateway cities are increasingly inclined to encourage development of clustered forms of economic activity.

However, it should be underscored that the very different spatial and socioeconomic character of each city directly shapes its individual capacity for urban change. More specifically, the geographic constraints and development histories of each city have directly determined the strategies that have been settled upon in the reconfiguration of their office hubs.

We explored four different major approaches that the cities have adopted: extension of existing central business district; formation of new CBD; creation of industry-specific hubs; and creation of decentralised back-office areas.

With respect to Asia's major gateway cities, lack of available land for further expansion in core urban areas is pushing town planners and policymakers in the direction of forming new CBDs, creating new non-core industry-specific hubs as well as decentralised office areas. Indeed, Beijing is one of the few Asian gateway cities that still has a substantial tract of land directly to the east of the core CBD, currently under active preparation for generation of a CBD Eastward Extension district.

In Singapore, in a similar, if smaller-scale, urban design move, pressure on Raffles Place CBD will be alleviated through the expansion of the Southern Waterfront, which is planned to be a mixed-use district connecting Marina Centre to future commercial developments along Rochor and Bukit Timah canals.

As one of the most mature office markets in Asia, Tokyo is not planning to physically extend its CBD, but to upgrade a number of non-core or underutilised areas that lie within the core Central Five Wards. This will involve upgrading the Toranomon district into a major new core area, not far from Marunouchi/Otemachi.

Demographic growth and economic and technological change are giving rise to new networks of urban development. Put simply, Asian gateway cities, while retaining their older core commercial areas, are also becoming increasingly decentralised.

What is propelling the rapidity of this change is an expanding urban footprint of global capital, including technology infrastructure of related support systems. Hence, while Asia's entry into the internet age has completely scrambled the former centre/periphery urban logic, the forces driving expansion towards the urban periphery are counterbalanced by the fact that many major Asian corporate occupiers still seek to occupy core centralised urban locations as the ideal staging ground for their command and control operations.

Asian gateway cities, while retaining their older core commercial areas, are also becoming increasingly decentralised

However, in the absence of viable inner-city sites close to the existing CBD, some cities have no alternative but to generate new CBDs in disused or underutilised inner-city urban areas.

In Hong Kong, constraints imposed by the city's relatively small size and lack of developable land have determined that urban change over the next decade will be focused on regeneration of former inner-city industrial areas. When this revitalisation work is completed, the relationship between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon will change, as the concentration of new grade A office developments in Kowloon East will sizeably outstrip the total quantum of stock on Hong Kong Island's traditional core business district areas. In Shanghai, the development of the Hongqiao CBD and Qiantian in Pudong, and in Beijing the new Lize Financial District are also examples.

Generally speaking, industries that require continuous innovation in order to adapt to volatile external conditions are most likely to emerge as forces driving the emergence of new industry-specific clusters. In Asia's leading commercial centres, the accelerated fast-forward that is being fuelled by the increased mobility of capital in the information age and the growth of e-commerce and internet finance are major forces driving requirements for new business hubs. This, in turn, is leading to complex redrawing of the boundaries of urban space. More specifically, it is giving rise to new technological hubs and digital industry nodes.

Those Asian cities that are the centre of operations for companies with large office workforces that are engaged in non-client interfacing business activity share a growing need for decentralised business space.

In many respects, the rapid emergence of decentralised office hubs and suburban business parks in cities like Mumbai, Beijing and Shanghai positions them to lead this trend, among Asian gateway cities.

One can look at Yizhuang ETDZ Zhongguancun Science Park in Beijing, which successfully attracted several major corporations to acquire or develop headquarters properties within its precinct along with improved mass rapid transit connections to the central city. The Fengtai Advanced Business Park in Beijing is another example.

Andrew Ness is the head of research, greater China, at DTZ