Lan­tau: where high-rise liv­ing, com­pact liv­ing, works

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

CAME back re­cently from a twoweek visit to Hong Kong with my com­pan­ion Mary, who knows the re­gion well. Her son and fam­ily live there.

It was my first visit and while I was not sur­prised by what I saw on Hong Kong is­land – apart, that is, from find­ing it was two-thirds dense for­est – I was sur­prised by an ad­ja­cent is­land, Lan­tau.

So rather than dis­cuss that fa­mil­iar pile that is Hong Kong and nearby Kowloon (there’s more in­fra­struc­ture there, I think, than all South Africa’s in­ner ci­ties com­bined), I want to tell you about Lan­tau, a “sub­ur­ban is­land” twice the area of Hong Kong is­land.

That’s where we stayed in a 14th-floor flat over­look­ing the South China Sea.

We could see Hong Kong’s toothy cityscape in the dis­tance; a 25-minute fast ferry ride away.

Lan­tau is the largest is­land in the re­gion which was a Bri­tish Crown Colony un­til ceded to China 17 years ago.

On Hong Kong it­self, beyond that

Ifa­mous sky­line, I saw tow­er­ing 70-storey soul­less blocks of flats packed tightly liked bam­boo clumps – thou­sands of fam­i­lies com­pressed into thou­sands of tiny flats. I re­called Robert Ful­ford’s remark about megac­i­ties: “I have seen the fu­ture – and it doesn’t work.”

By con­trast Lan­tau, where widely spaced “tow­er­ing vil­lages” of high blocks sprout from deeply forested hills, high-rise liv­ing works just fine.

We stayed in Dis­cov­ery Bay in the north-east where small clus­ters of blocks (up to 24 storeys high) rise from the hill­sides – an am­phithe­atre of land­scaped parks look­ing down on “The Plaza” – a huge, Mediter­ranean-type “square” (it’s round ac­tu­ally).

It is busy with chil­dren scoot­ing or rid­ing their bikes; par­ents and off-duty Filipino “do­mes­tics” drink cof­fee and pas­sen­gers hurry to the ferry ter­mi­nal or to the spot­lessly clean buses that pro­vide a 10-minute ser­vice to each of the bay’s com­plexes.

One is aware of chil­dren – hun­dreds of them. And dogs. The Chi­nese, who rep­re­sent 88 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, love dogs as much as the ex­pa­tri­ates do. They walk them morn­ing and evening, dis­pos­ing of their drop­pings in spe­cial bins.

Even along Lan­tau’s many paved na­ture trails, there are dog la­trines.

There are no pri­vately owned cars in the quiet bay, just golf carts. Shops ring the plaza. So do restau­rants cater­ing for the tastes of about 30 na­tion­al­i­ties, in­clud­ing many South Africans. (We even found, not far away, a South Africanowned beach café called The Stoep.)

But whether Asian or “gweilo” (mean­ing “ghosts” – the slightly deroga­tory name for whites), most who fill the reg­u­lar rush-hour fer­ries are white-col­lar work­ers, smartly dressed and brisk of pace.

We some­times caught a rush-hour ferry and, on ar­rival on Hong Kong is­land, were swept along with other pas­sen­gers from other fer­ries to be ab­sorbed into the great pile of gleam­ing build­ings, many linked by sky­walks.

The glue that holds Dis­cov­ery Bay’s dis­parate com­mu­ni­ties to­gether is partly the vi­brant plaza where chil­dren mix and, by de­fault, fam­i­lies meet but also its large, so­cially aware In­ter­na­tional School and its mag­nif­i­cent club with its many sports fa­cil­i­ties. There’s almost no lit­ter and no theft. In a nearby “vil­lage” is a huge, colour­ful fa­cil­ity with a score or more ac­tiv­i­ties for chil­dren – tram­po­lines, slides, climbs, games of skill all well su­per­vised where chil­dren can be left.

Lan­tau’s suc­cess is due in part to its highly par­tic­i­pa­tive stra­tum of pro­fes­sional peo­ple, but also be­cause it avoided the over­whelm­ing waves of dis­pos­sessed ru­ral Chi­nese who fled com­mu­nism and swamped the rest of the Hong Kong re­gion. The con­cern now, through­out the ter­ri­tory, is how soon Beijing might sti­fle po­lit­i­cal free­dom and reg­i­ment Hong Kong’s vi­brant cul­tural life and busi­nesses.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.