HONG KONG’S BIGGEST PROBLEM
“Every problem in Hong Kong is a property problem,” says Kacey Wong, a local sculptor whose works appeared at the Harbour Arts Sculpture Garden near the government’s Tamar headquarters. Wong may not be a property guru, but he’s not wrong.
High property prices in Hong Kong are to blame, in part or in whole, for impending new businesses with high rents, social discontent among the young, mental health issues, the lack of public spaces, income inequality, decreasing quality of life, and the loss of global corporate headquarter operations to cheaper Singapore. Experts point to a variety of solutions, including taking land from country parks, developing brownfield sites, rebuilding derelict structures, massive reclamation projects or, somewhat fantastically, building a “sky city” above Hong Kong’s port facilities.
The government has created a task force to solicit opinion from the public and propose recommendations that, presumably, will be acceptable to a large majority of Hong Kong’s citizens. Their work has just begun.
Property players have already made their opinions clear. Anything other than developing on Fan Ling Golf Course seems to be on the table. The task force’s work on getting the public to choose among proposed alternatives is unlikely to offer an accurate picture of public opinion. As reported by South China Morning Post, the methods include phone surveys and online submissions, plus rolling street interviews, rather than a referendum of any sort. The last such consultation on land supply, conducted in 2012, produced some recommendations that are on the discussion list again this time. None of this is very encouraging.
What seems to be missing from the task force’s options is a way of reforming how the government supplies new land. Could the Town Planning Board be made to work better or faster? Would a more transparent system of property ownership in Hong Kong discourage illegally gained money from entering the system? Should the blind auction tender system be replaced with a design-led tendering system?
On our cover is Mico Chung, the founder and chairman of CSI who’s set his sights on joining the top ranks of property elites in Hong Kong. The developer suggested it may be time for the government to create an overall policy that benefits Hong Kong as a whole and get on with it. And if the task force is only about whitewashing development proposals with a veneer of public input, why bother with the veneer?
In his story Looking for Vision, Christoper Dewolf investigates the strange inertia that exists around designing Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour. Kacey Wong is quoted in that story, in which the lack of a clear plan – or even a way of developing that plan – seems to leave Asia’s World City with a harbourfront that’s underutilised, even though it could easily be the world’s most valuable real estate. While the harbour is a particular case study, many of the problems Dewolf uncovers bedevil Hong Kong more broadly.
The inertia in government is set against the rising interest in proptech, a start-up/investor driven cycle of tech ideas brought to bear on all aspects of the property business. In our The Proptech Primer feature, Jimmy Chow investigates the major trends in proptech that are already having an impact on Hong Kong’s property market.