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RTPI Young Planner visits Hong Kong

15 January 2019 Author: Luke Coffey

As winner of the RTPI’s Young Planner of the Year Award 2017, I spent a week in Hong Kong thanks to a prize donated by The Julie Cowans Memorial Trust and Places for People.  In this blog, I’d like to share some thoughts and experiences about my brief time in this vibrant and dynamic metropolis.

The main purpose of my study tour was to engage with young planners in Hong Kong and find out more about the challenges facing them within the profession.  

Luke Coffey In Hong Kong

Hong Kong has an active network of young planning professionals at Hong Kong University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and through their professional network, the Hong Kong Institute of Young Planners.

I saw first-hand some fantastic work being done by the built environment profession in Hong Kong in addressing the housing challenge, while balancing environmental, economic and social issues.

I had the opportunity to engage with all three of these institutes and was impressed with the standard of courses on offer at both universities, and the passion Hong Kong young planners have for the profession. 

A housing crisis of a different scale

Throughout my discussions with them one theme emerges time and time again: the housing crisis.

Hong Kong has one of the worst housing crises in the world with an increasingly acute shortage of affordable housing.  Limited land supply against a growing population has led to Hong Kong having one of the most expensive residential property markets in the world.

For many locals this means that they are unable to get onto the property ladder leaving them with little alternative than to rent very small apartments or even sub-divided units.  It is a housing crisis of a different scale to the one in the UK and it is certainly far more complex than a shortage of land and homes.

It is a significant challenge that the development industry in Hong Kong are seeking to address amid a rapidly growing population and buoyant economy.  I saw first-hand some fantastic work being done by the built environment profession in Hong Kong in addressing the housing challenge, while balancing environmental, economic and social issues.

An RTPI award-winning new town underway

I met up with Urbis to discuss the Hung Shui Kiu New Development Area Plan, a project that won the International Award for Planning Excellence at the 2017 RTPI Awards for providing an alternative blueprint for future development in Hong Kong.

Hung Shui Kiu

Hung Shui Kiu is aims to create an environmentally sustainable new town through development of a brownfield industrial site. Housing, made up of both public (circa 51%) and private tenures, will have living spaces larger than most new residential developments and some will be in traditional low-rise elements.

Space will be provided for commercial and industrial opportunities, and the whole scheme will be served by public transport, pedestrian walkways, and cycleways.

Walkability and public transport high on the HK agenda

Linked to housing need and population growth is the challenge of the movement of people, and from my experience, it is an incredibly easy place to navigate around.

The MTR is one of the most impressive transport systems I have experienced – reliable, regular (operating to the early hours), incredibly cheap and easy to navigate, with seamless transition onto other lines at interchange stations.

Maintaining its efficiency and capacity in the face of rapid population growth is a key challenge for the MTR Corporation, along with expanding the system to new developments outside of its current network.

The vibrancy and energy of Hong Kong can only truly be explored on foot, though. The main urban areas are easy to navigate, and you will find lots going on right until the early hours. On one particular evening I stumbled across a basketball pick-up game in one of the many parks and watched with a large crowd of spectators – if only I had my kit with me I would have joined in!

I was especially fascinated to see how Hong Kong maintains and improves walkability despite its steep topography, and no more is this more visible than the Central-Mid Levels escalator and walkway system. An 800m pedestrian walkway that links the central business district on Hong Kong Island with residential areas perched on slopes rising behind it.

Hong Kong is a truly fascinating place and most pleasing of all was to see a strong planning profession plying their trade in addressing important issues in their area to improve the overall quality of life for the whole population.

I would like to thank the Julie Cowans Memorial Trust, Places for People, the RTPI and my employer Mott MacDonald for their generosity in making this once-in-a-lifetime trip a reality.

Luke Coffey

Luke Coffey

Luke Coffey is Principal Planning Consultant at Mott MacDonald.