Harbour Times – 21 February, 2014

CBD Approach Too Antiquated for the Proposed East Lantau Metropolis

Francis Cheung explains why an new integrated community around Kau Yi Chau would be vastly preferable to a new CBD.

Reclaiming land in central waters to build an artificial island could be critical to Hong Kong’s future development. But envisioning it as a third CBD, as proposed by the chief executive in his recent policy address, would be a huge waste of a golden opportunity to create a community of the future. As with most things in life, it all turns on planning.

Building an artificial island between Hong Kong Island and Lantau is not a new idea. In fact, the idea has already been stillborn twice and now in its third incarnation as part of a grand vision for the development of Lantau.
As early as 1989, before my appointment as a member of the Hong Kong Airport Consultative Committee in the 1990s, I championed a proposal to build the new airport on just such an artificial island at and around Kau Yi Chau. Among various key merits of the site are the fact that there no problems of overlapping airspaces and that building a third runway would have minimal conservation impact. For a variety of complicated and controversial reasons, it was eventually decided to build the airport on reclaimed land in Chek Lap Kok.
Then there was a proposal in the 1990s to build a road to connect Kennedy Town across the subsequently abandoned Green Island reclamation to north Lantau. This was to be part of the original vision for Route 10 connecting western Hong Kong through north-western Lantau to Yuen Long. The road was to pass through an artificial island (around Kau Yi Chau) then intended for a container port, which was subsequently doomed due to a change in the regional logistics landscape.
Will the artificial island be a case of “third time’s the charm”? Not if we approach its planning with the even older idea of CBD.
the very concept of a CBD is fast becoming antiquated … creativity in urban designs [allows] people to live and work in a more integrated community.
A CBD is not like a “field of dreams” – as in “if you build it, businesses will come”. Thriving business districts almost always emerge organically, where unplanned initial successes attract competitors and complementary industries to locate nearby, eventually reaching a critical mass. A pre-planned CBD risks ended up being a white elephant.
Even more importantly, we have to ask ourselves: do we really need a third CBD? After all, the very concept of a CBD is fast becoming antiquated as progressive planners focus their creativity in urban designs that allow people to live and work in a more integrated community. And if current trends in urban planning and resource limitations continue to hold by the time the island gets built 15 to 35 years from now, the last thing we need is another “centralized” location where people travel long distances to and from work.
Instead, we need to envision this “metropolis” as a community of the future by implementing advanced urban design principles and criteria, integrating residential, commercial, community, cultural and recreational developments. Since the proposed island spans 1,000 hectares, this type of mixed-use development is not only feasible, but indeed necessary.
A more inclusive approach to planning the island would be to create a mix of public and private housing developments
Allowing ample space for infrastructure, 1,000 hectares of flat buildable surface – approximately the size of the current airport at Chek Lap Kok – can provide a significant amount of housing units to help satisfy future demand. In this case, we could allocate about 55% of the available land in a community for infrastructure such as roads, community facilities, schools, hospitals, open spaces, and other specified uses. Commercial developments, such as offices, hotels and marinas, would take up 20% of the land, providing workplace for people who live on the island. The remaining 25% of land, even adopting a relatively low plot ratio of 3.0, would yield a residential community of as many as 250,000 people – assuming 75 square meters of gross floor space can accommodate an average of 2.5 residents). For comparison, the current population of Tseung Kwan O New Town, which also spans 1,000 hectares, is about 400,000.
Interestingly, when the government consulted the public last year about reclaiming land in central waters, some of the comments received seem to favour limiting residential development on the artificial island to public housing. A more inclusive approach to planning the island would be to create a mix of public and private housing developments to accommodate residents across a wide range of socioeconomic status. This can help maximize the percentage of people who can live and work on the island, and minimize time and resources taken up by commuting.
In retrospect, locating the airport at Chek Lap Kok severely limited the development potential of Lantau because areas under flight paths, such as Sunny Bay, could not be developed for housing. This is why we can ill afford to make any planning mistakes with the artificial island. Even though many of us probably won’t live long enough to witness its completion, legislators and the public could still play a critical role in helping shape this community of the future for our next generations.
Francis Neoton Cheung is the convenor of Doctoral Exchange (www.doctoralexchange.hk), a public policy research collective, and a former member of the Hong Kong Airport Consultative Committee and the Land and Building Advisory Committee.

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