Ex­tra steps needed to im­ple­ment the sweep­ing HK2030+ vi­sion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - K. M. MO

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.

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