Extra steps needed to implement the sweeping HK2030+ vision
The importance of the document issued earlier this month by the government on its vision and development strategy for the years beyond 2030 cannot be overstated. Entitled “Hong Kong 2030+”, this new blueprint for our future is an update of “Hong Kong 2030: Planning Vision and Strategy”, published in 2007. While the blueprint covers a wide spectrum of issues ranging from global and mega-city regions to natural and built environments, it focuses on the planning, use, design and construction of our land, infrastructure and buildings.
It identifies challenges facing an aging population, old building stocks, home-job spatial distribution, transport and infrastructure, liveability, climate change, global and regional economics as well as education. To turn these challenges into opportunities, the blueprint lists key strategic directions and actions in planning for a liveable high-density city, embracing new economic challenges and creating a capacity for sustainable growth.
While much effort was involved in preparing this comprehensive blueprint, there are some issues that may need to be reconsidered before a development strategy can be finalized.
The blueprint advocates boosting building management and maintenance initiatives on extending the lifespan of existing old buildings and improving the existing built environment by rejuvenating obsolete areas which are densely developed.
In the past decade, the government has been helping with the repair and maintenance of old buildings through financial subsidies to qualified owners. Old buildings will become beyond reasonable economic repair when they reach their useful lifespan in the long term. Hence continuation of this initiative can only be taken as a short-term tool in arresting the deterioration of existing old buildings. The long-term solution is inevitable — these old buildings must be redeveloped.
As the blueprint cites the redevelopment of the Kwun Tong Town Centre, which is being undertaken by the Urban Renewal Authority (URA), it appears that the government will rely on the URA to carry out the rejuvenation initiative. If so, observers are asking whether we can rely solely on the URA to deal with our large and growing stock of aging buildings.
The number of projects completed by the URA since its establishment, together with the number of projects completed by its predecessor the Land Development Corporation, clearly shows that the problem of aging building stocks cannot be solved by the URA alone. Private-sector forces will need to be involved for this massive exercise.
Here are two issues to address. The majority of existing multi-story buildings are already built to the maximum permitted density. For those built under the regulations in force before the 1970s, they may even have exceeded the current permitted density. It follows that there is no economic incentive for owners and developers to redevelop such old buildings. Another difficult problem for principal owners and developers is multi-ownership — some blocks could have hundreds of owners of little units on various floors. Just imagine the likely difficulties in legally obtaining the full ownership title to enable redevelopment to take place!
The government will need to carefully study such problems and formulate a workable strategy to encourage the rejuvenation of our old building stocks. The author is a fellow of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors. He is also a registered professional building surveyor, an authorized person registered under the Buildings Ordinance and former assistant director of the Buildings Department.
To do much better for our deserving elderly, the authorities may need to revisit the policy, design, location and other provisions for residential care homes.”
Other than old buildings, the blueprint also takes care of our aged citizens — it includes the promotion of “aging in place” as one of the key actions in strengthening the support of our elderly.
The housing situation will affect young and old. Flats that our younger generations can afford have been getting smaller and smaller in size over the years. Meanwhile, full-time care for the elderly is broadly unavailable. It seems most unlikely that members of tomorrow’s “silver society” will be able to stay on in their own homes. A large portion of the elderly population is expected to end up in residential care homes run by either NGOs or private operators.
To do much better for our deserving elderly, the authorities may need to revisit the policy, design, location and other provisions for residential care homes. This is to give them an enjoyable living environment and ensure that such care homes are within easy reach for visits by family members.
While owners and occupants generally welcome the provision of residential care homes in their neighborhoods, others believe in the idea of “not in my backyard” (NIMBY). Thus the prevention of nuisances to neighboring occupants should also be fully considered. This NIMBY mentality has also hampered the provision of many essential public facilities and hopefully this selfish mindset can be addressed starting with our youngest generation in schools.
On a happier note the blueprint advocates watercooling systems for newly formed districts as a green initiative. In addition it might be worthwhile to study the feasibility of the provision of automatic central refuse collection systems for new development areas on a district basis. This would eliminate refuse collection vehicles on the roads, thereby enhancing environmental hygiene.
To eliminate the need to open up and backfill pavement/road surfaces for maintenance of buried underground utility services, the installation of purpose-made underground conduits or on-grade hubs for these utilities should be considered for new development areas. Such money-saving systems would not only minimize traffic disruption but help to eliminate construction waste for future maintenance works on such installations.