Hong Kong needs a bigger vision

Updated: 2013-09-13 07:15

By Ken Davies(HK Edition)

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Hong Kong needs a holistic vision so that it can build on the strong foundation provided by previous generations.

The city has an impressive development record, having risen to developed-world status in a generation or two, despite having no natural resources.

It has maintained and strengthened institutions such as the legal system and established an effective anti-corruption agency that is a model for other jurisdictions. Its well-paid civil servants are honest and effective. Its public services include a clean, efficient and fast transport system that is the envy of the developed world. It has the world's best airport. Its universities are rapidly climbing up the international rankings.

Yet Hong Kong remains a place of glaring paradoxes.

While Hong Kong's income per head is among the highest in the world, so is its income inequality as measured by the Gini co-efficient.

Life expectancy at birth in Hong Kong is now the world's highest, beating even Japan, yet healthcare provision in the SAR remains uneven.

Despite having moved to clean-emission taxis and buses and shifted smelly manufacturing over the border to the Chinese mainland years ago, Hong Kong's air remains far more polluted than the world's other financial centers, London and New York.

After decades of building better and better public housing, and with state-of-the-art luxury apartment blocks in most areas, Hong Kong is facing a housing crisis because of unaffordably high prices. It is a disgrace that tens of thousands still live in cage homes.

With no oil or gold to exploit, Hong Kong has always relied on immigration to boost its productive resources. People from all over the world want to live and work in Hong Kong. Yet it seems to have no long-term immigration strategy.

While some of the world's most modern commercial buildings tower above the townscape, there is a looming shortage of office space, which will become more apparent when the economy picks up.

Hong Kong's buildings and public spaces are kept admirably clean, and the government strongly encourages recycling, yet there will be nowhere to put millions of tons of rubbish each year once the present landfill sites are filled to capacity in 2015.

Hong Kong people share values and objectives far more than in any other territory in the world, yet their representatives seem to be unable to agree on anything.

These are all problems that everyone in Hong Kong is aware of. And Hong Kong people do not have a reputation for being stupid or lacking enterprise. So why are these problems not being solved?

Several major think tanks have proposed partial solutions. For example, the website of the venerable Hong Kong Policy Research Institute lists research on youth policy, arts and cultural policy, the information industry, civil service reform and healthcare reform. Each of these is a major policy area in its own right.

But so far, nobody seems to have tried to join all the dots to form an overall, holistic vision for Hong Kong.

Such a master plan is needed because Hong Kong has a highly-developed, complex economy and society in which many issues are intertwined.

Every government has to have separate departments dealing with specific problems. Corporations specialize. NGOs focus on particular problems. But across-the-board coordination is needed to solve these interconnected problems.

Let's take the example of waterfront development.

Hong Kong has built, and is building, attractive waterfront spaces, but these are few and far between. Connecting them to form a beautiful whole would provide opportunities to develop combined leisure, housing, office and cultural spaces that would enrich life for the locals while boosting tourism.

And such a project would require far more than hiring a famous European architect. It would also provide opportunities to create jobs and training opportunities. The design would have major healthcare implications, and the designers would have to ensure that these were positive. Instead of just meeting minimum standards to pass an environmental impact assessment, the project would have to be the greenest in Asia to pass muster.

This is merely one example. If it were implemented across the northern coastline of Hong Kong Island it would be a great step forward. Extending it to Kowloon and appropriate parts of the New Territories, taking into account the special characteristics of each area, would turn Hong Kong into a world-class territory, an even stronger magnet for investment, tourism and talent than it already is.

The author is the founder and president of Growing Capacity Inc, a consultancy.

(HK Edition 09/13/2013 page9)