Overloading HK’s road network

February 16th, 2012 DesigningHK Posted in Culture, General 1 Comment »

After overloading our hospitals, our Government is now looking to overload our road network with cross-boundary vehicles and this will affect far more people than the shortage of maternity ward beds.


Hong Kong has a short 2,000km road network with the highest density of vehicles only after Monaco. Over three decades we carefully crafted a transport policy with rail as the backbone to steer the city clear of the grid lock it suffered in the 1970s. The number of vehicles has been stable in Hong Kong, except for the private cars which have jumped by 20% over the last five years. As a result traffic congestion is increasing and the average journey speed has dropped to 24.9km in Kowloon and 21.3km on Hong Kong Island.


With the decision to build a cheap vehicle-only bridge rather than a rail link to Macao and Zhuhai, the pressure is on to open up Hong Kong to the mainland’s large fleet of vehicles. Once the bridge opens the design capacity of border crossings will be 157,500 vehicles every day compared with the 433,202 (2011) private cars licensed in Hong Kong.

決定興建一條只供汽車行駛(而並不提供往珠海和澳門的鐵路服務)的港珠澳大橋,等同開放香港予內地大量的車輛,為香港交通構成沉重壓力。根據大橋設計的承載力,一旦開放大橋予過境車輛,它將為香港帶來每日157,500輛的車輛,或者為2011年香港私家車牌照的3分之1,即 433,202輛汽車。

Mainland private cars and coaches will join the queues of vehicles trying to get into Mong Kok, the tip of Kowloon, Hung Hom, Kowloon Bay, North Point, Causeway Bay, Wanchai, Central, Sheung Wan, Repulse Bay and Stubbs Road. Building more highways and bypasses in and to Hong Kong will add more cars faster to these queues as we simply can’t absorb more cars in our dense urban areas.

內地私家車及巴士將會使現時嘗試進入旺角、九龍、紅磡、九龍灣、北角、銅鑼灣、灣仔、中環、上環、淺水灣及司徒拔道的車龍變得更加長。我們的稠密市區已不能吸納更多的車輛,建設更多的公路及繞道只會令車輛更快到達 “龍尾”排隊。

Touring visitors may not mind being stuck in traffic while sightseeing, but Hong Kong residents will pay the price as they will have to spend more time in traffic just to get essential things done: doctor visits, helping out family, being in time for exams, .. More importantly, every day 80% of Hong Kong’s residents walk to transport, work, school, and shopping, and that will become even less convenient.

遊客在觀光時當然未必介意被堵塞於公路,但港人卻要為此付出代價,花費更多時間去處理一些基本事宜:看醫生,處理家庭事務,預留到達試場的交通時間…… 更重要的是,80%的香港市民每天都要步行去乘坐交通工具、工作、學校,甚至購物。

To cater for more vehicles so–called road improvements will further deteriorate the walkability of Hong Kong. Forget pavement widening or adding footpaths, Hong Kong will see more street crossings removed, and more guard railings, footbridges and subways built to stop pedestrians from impeding the flow of traffic, all resulting in crowding of pavements, mind-numbing tunnels, detours and level changes, and more roadside air and noise pollution.

「自駕遊」只會令情況變得更加不便。為容納日漸增多的車輛數目,可見的”道路改善工程”只會惡化香港行人道路的可行性。路面的橫過馬路設施將會被移除,路面擴闊工程及改善行人路斷續問題將會被徹底遺忘。取而代之的是更多的欄杆、行人天橋及隧道,以避免行人影響交通路面的流暢度。以上的種種都會嚴重影響行人步行的舒適度: 行人路擁擠,使人麻木的隧道,迂迴曲折的路徑、路面水平的改變,以及日益嚴重的路邊空氣及噪音污染。 在香港發動的「蝗蟲」實指那些內地的車輛,而不是內地人。只基於旅遊業利益作出發點的交通政策極為短視,當決策者離職後,此措施仍然活像一種具侵略性昆蟲,嚴重危害�! �會健康。

Mainland vehicles, not mainlanders, are the problem. The short sighted policy of vehicle-based tourism is an invasive pest that will harm this city well after the powers who decided to do so have left office. Differentiation of local and non-resident vehicles is done in other cities by having different parking charging schemes for residents. That may not be feasible in Hong Kong where most off-street parking is owned privately.

在香港發動的「蝗蟲」實指那些內地的車輛,而不是內地人。只基於旅遊業利益作出發點的交通政策極為短視,當決策者離職後,此措施仍然活像一種具侵略性昆蟲,嚴重危害礡 會健康。 在其他城市,採用不同的停泊收費計劃為主要的方法以分別本地和非本地的車輛。但這個方法不適用於香港,因為香港大部份的停車場皆為私人物業。

The alternative for Hong Kong is to use electronic road pricing and to give mainland drivers a strong financial incentive to park their car at the border crossing and to ride public transport. To make Hong Kong livable and to minimise the cost for residents, we need a system in place for managing the fleet of cars using our roads, before we open the borders to more cars from the Mainland.


Paul Zimmerman 司馬文
CEO Designing Hong Kong Limited

Tax the locusts more

February 3rd, 2012 atam Posted in Culture, General No Comments »

I’m not talking about those referred to as such in an Apple Daily ad. The locusts I’m talking about hurt ordinary mainlanders and Hong Kongers alike.

The Financial Secretary’s 2012 budget has been criticised for narrowing the tax base by increasing the allowances of middle-class taxpayers, but what is of more concern is not the number of people eligible to pay tax, but the number of people who ought to pay much more but who at the moment are not.

What a frightening idea, eh, for a city that’s used its low tax regime to attract talent from around the world. But think about this: a small number of people have profited hugely thanks to a revenue policy that’s heavily dependent on expensive land to bring funds into government coffers. In order to make a tidy sum after accounting for the high land premium, the property market is manipulated to push prices ever higher. As a result, every resident who has to pay rent or rates or has a mortgage is effectively paying an indirect tax on top of whatever they have to pay in salaries tax.

In the meantime, the profits generated by Hong Kong’s property market has enabled the developers to push aggressively into the mainland property market. You must have heard heartbreaking stories of rural land grabs, forced relocations and violent demolitions, right? Such atrocities aren’t necessarily perpetrated by Hong Kong developers, but industry insiders are well aware of such incidences, especially since Hong Kongers have similar experiences too.

So do we want money extracted from the city used to bully ordinary folks, or do we want something done to get that money put into better use for everyone? The anger that drove the placement of that advertisement in Apple Daily should be directed at the government, for failing to institute long-term reform of its tax policy; and at the developers/landlords who are building luxury flats designed to attract mainlanders with deep pockets as well as throwing out cinema chains in their shopping malls and replacing them with luxury shops. All the profits accrue to the developers/landlords while ordinary people can only hope for jobs that require few skills and offer little security. Unless this problem is addressed, Hong Kong will never resolve the widening wealth gap.

Culture, what culture?

January 25th, 2012 atam Posted in Building, Culture, General No Comments »

Heard the news that LV will replace UA Cinemas in Times Square?

Many large-scale shopping malls have a cinema or cineplex because film-goers generate additional revenue when they eat and shop before and after watching a film, but with mainlanders bussed in for the express purpose of shopping and Times Square designed in such a way that there is less benefit to be gained from having UA there, Wharf, having been offered ten times the rent, has no compunction about kicking the cinema chain out.

Any good architect/space planner can easily point out the sins of this shopping mall – the reliance on a few sets of escalators to circulate customers, the disconnect between the different elements that discourages cross-fertilisation, etc – but such is mainlanders’ appetite for luxury brands that none of it matters.

People may prefer to watch DVDs at home or on their mobile devices these days, but cinemas have remained popular because of the big-screen experience and the opportunity for social bonding. UA Times Square has never been known to serve up arthouse fare, but it has a distinct cultural function, offering mostly Cantonese versions of popular films. Now locals who prefer to see the latest animated movie in Cantonese rather than English will have to look elsewhere.

The tills will ring at LV, no doubt about it, but who will benefit? And if mainlanders’ sole interest is buying a bigger variety of luxury brands at better prices, what hope is there that tourist arrivals will bolster attendance of cultural venues at the West Kowloon Cultural District?

What’s in HK$8 billion?

October 6th, 2011 atam Posted in Building, Culture, General 1 Comment »

The latest news from the West Kowloon Cultural District is that the cost of building it could go up by HK$8 billion.

Since this was not mentioned when a public consultation was launched, does it mean that those who have expressed their views will now be told that it’s their preferences that have driven the cost increase?

The rise in construction costs has already been mentioned by the chairman of the WKCD authority’s development committee. Another reason is the addition of an underground car park.

Now just think: how many public housing blocks can be built with HK$8 billion? Or how many low-income families provided with a healthier diet? Instead, the government has opted for an underground car park for the expensive cars of its officials and the tycoons.

Recently, the Chinese government announced that local authorities would be banned from building new offices for themselves if they fail to meet annual targets for the construction of public housing. Doesn’t it make many a Hong Konger wistful, looking up at the glass curtain wall of the Tamar offices?

Can HK afford an eco-illiterate CE?

September 26th, 2011 atam Posted in Building, Climate change, Culture, Greenwash No Comments »

Although he has yet to resign from his position as the Chief Secretary and declare his candidacy for the Chief Executive’s position, Henry Tang’s vociferous supporters are already out informally campaigning on his behalf.

That he has a good chance of being elected is cause for serious concern not only because of who his supporters are (tycoons and big businesses), but his eco-illiteracy. Speaking about the West Kowloon Cultural District, he said it would be a “future pioneer of a green city”. “Green features” are mentioned; so is a “zero-emissions” underground car park, justified on the grounds that it would be difficult to stop private cars from going to the district given its public nature.

Er, there’s been no problem stopping private cars from entering pedestrianised parts of Hong Kong or roads designated for use by public transport only. Plus, the “cultural district” is going to be right next to the high-speed rail’s West Kowloon Terminus and various modes of public transport, like those driverless monorails dubbed “people movers”, have been mentioned. Surely a genuinely green district would discourage driving – and save money – by not having a car park? And rather than a monitoring station to keep a check on roadside pollution, as Mr Tang promised, it would have little roadside pollution in the first place because there are no cars around at all?

Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to be another case of him once again putting his foot in his mouth: he really doesn’t seem to have a clue as to what ‘sustainability’ really means. Unless, of course, he’s attempting to use greenwash to disguise/justify the soaring cost of developing the district; just think about the cost as well as noise and dust generated by excavating an underground car park, not to mention the carbon emissions from pouring all that extra concrete.

Greenwash, of course, is something practised with some skill by the business community. Doonesbury has once again hit the nail on the head with a recent cartoon. Big business knows full well they’re messing with our common future, but they won’t put it in so many words because it’s bad PR, and appearance is everything. How can it not be, when we’re so easily fooled?

How many 711s do we need?

June 23rd, 2011 atam Posted in Culture, General No Comments »

There’s a stretch of Wan Chai where you’ll find two 711s that are just, not stone’s throw, but paper ball’s throw away from each other, and Wan Chai is by no means unique in this respect.

Go anywhere in Hong Kong these days, and chance is you’ll walk into a 711 more often than a bank ATM. If not a 711, then maybe an OK. Just how many convenience stores do we need?

One minute there’s a little old cha chaan teng in a familiar spot; the next it’s been razed and turned into a 711. Where the location is not appropriate for brand names or the shop space is too small to attract more upmarket fare, convenience stores prepared to meet the increasingly ridiculous asking prices of landlords have taken over the streetscape, turfing out mum-and-pop shops that have served their neighbourhoods for years.  According to the latest from real estate agents,   a 780-square feet shop in Ma On Shan fetched a monthly rent of HK$500,000; what mum-and-pop shops can afford that??

In my neighbourhood there’s a small flower stall. Using the money she made from selling those flowers, the old lady who ran it until recently was able to send her children to university and now has a daughter-in-law and others in the family happy to carry on caring for it and the neighbours who have patronised it all these years, even though they can make a better living doing something else.

This kind of opportunity and community cohesion are fast disappearing from Hong Kong as the middle class is increasingly hollowed out by an ever widening wealth gap. Only recently, a friend has had to close her six-month old restaurant in Cheung Sha Wan due, surprise surprise, to a hefty rent rise.

In the UK, a campaign to maintain sustainable communities has gone all the way to parliament as people battle against what has been dubbed Clone Town Britain, or the takeover of streets and districts once vibrant with local shops by chain stores and brand names. Isn’t it about time something was done to stop Clone Town Hong Kong?

Apparently Ocean Park plans to introduce a new attraction with old Hong Kong as the theme. Wiped out from the actual streets as retail monoculture kills off the diversity that gives them life, they are about to be mummified and commodified into a revenue earner for a theme park. Will those hired to entertain visitors make enough to secure their own future?

Are businesses responsible for the health of employees?

May 25th, 2011 Mar Posted in Articles, Culture, General No Comments »

Recently in France, an appeals court upheld (link is in French) a ruling in which the carmaker Renault was found guilty of “inexcusable fault” in the suicide of one of its employees in 2006.

A lower court had found last December that Renault had done nothing in the face of obvious signs (lack of appetite, loss of weight, listlessness) that the employee was emotionally unstable and a suicide risk.  It found that his symptoms were directly linked to the increasing pressures he faced at work. Among these were constantly rising targets and increasing pressures from his superiors over his work on an ongoing project.  The technician jumped from the 5th floor of a Renault building in 2006.

The French court’s upholding this ruling – and consigning the company to continue to pay the deceased’s wages to his widow and son — raises important questions about the extent to which a company must “protect the health and well being” of its employees.  Here in Hong Kong – where the employer—employee relationship is a one-way street in which the employer “says” and the employee “does” – could we imagine such a verdict?

What sacrifices must be made in the name of a “good economy” and “favorable business environment”?

From Copenhagen to Hong Kong

May 21st, 2011 Mar Posted in Culture, Earth, General No Comments »

Imagine: a city where

  • bikes have as much room on the streets as cars;
  • there are as many bikes on the road as cars, even in the rain;
  • areas of the city centre are car-free because that’s where people want to stroll;
  • the water running through and around the city is valued as a source of respite and outdoor pride, rather than potential fodder for high-rise retail commercial complexes… and where
  • as a result of all of this, the air at pedestrian level is actually clean and breathable.

This is Copenhagen and it is not a work of fiction. Denmark may have high unemployment, a low GDP growth rate by our standards, and high taxes. But one thing they have done right is to make their largest city livable, breathable, and accommodating to outdoor activities (with knock-on benefits for public health).

So, when our authorities and interested parties tell us that biking, car-free zones, and breathable air are not possible in Hong Kong, don’t believe the false boundaries that are being set up. Hong Kong’s economy functions for specific interests, and the winners would like the rest of us to think that there is no other way. It’s up to us to think differently, and act to bring about the change we seek.

Bye bye Edo de Waart

March 20th, 2011 atam Posted in Culture No Comments »

Farewell to the maestro who’s led the Hong Kong Phil since 2004.

If you wonder why Graham Sheffield resigned and whether the West Kowloon Cultural District would actually be a success, dig out the 6 March 2011 issue of the Post Magazine and read what Edo de Waart said.

Following are illuminating excerpts from the interview he gave Oliver Chou.

“What is so sorely missing in the whole Hong Kong arts outlook is that, while we are thankful for government support, I have never felt that they want to go with us,” he said. “Once we had a meeting and we talked about the new concert hall [in West Kowloon], Henry Tang said: ‘I want you to open it.’ I said: ‘If we do that, if we look at five to six years from now …. We need to be bigger, we need to have four woodwinds, not three, we need to have a solid body of strings, we need good soloists.’ At that point, he said: ‘Do we have to hire the Berlin Philharmonic?’”

“Now that I understand a little bit of the psyche at work here, I would probably be more careful in my criticism towards the government and do it in a different way, more quietly. I come from a country where we call it as we see it. If it’s not good, we say it. There is no loss of face involved. I realise now, when you are very critical here, people don’t fight, they back off. It’s a problem for a westerner to come here and work to not lose your energy or your willingness to get things done.”

The maestro has recorded with many different groups and has 130 albums to his name, but hasn’t recorded with the HK Phil, because the acoustics at the Cultural Centre Concert Hall is so poor!

Take the money or see it thrown away

March 6th, 2011 atam Posted in Culture No Comments »

Some people are so outraged at the cash handout that they’ve declared they will not withdraw it, but here’s a bit of advice: take the money, or else the government will throw it into yet another ill-conceived piece of hardware.

Following the announcement that Norman Foster’s design for the West Kowloon Cultural District has been chosen, the project’s development committee chairman, Ronald Arculli, let it be known that the HK$21.6 billion originally approved for it would not be enough to cover construction of the entire project. Construction costs have been rising, which isn’t a surprise, considering how the government has pushed infrastructure projects as a way to boost the GDP growth figure.

Mr Arculli suggested it would have to be built in stages; quite how much these stages would add up, nobody knows. Certainly one would hope it wouldn’t be anything like the cost escalation Guangzhou had to swallow for the Asian Games.

As for the idea that income from the early stages of the project would cover part of the costs, come on, does anybody seriously believe that would be sufficient to offset a tiny fraction of the amount? Would a big piece of hardware plus a few years spent on turning artistic endeavours into a “creative industry” be enough to change the culture of a city that fetes Cantopop and shopping?

One thing’s for sure: did anyone who went to the exhibition of the three competing designs notice how the Union Square development above Kowloon MTR Station towers above the “cultural district”? Up in Union Square there’s a very happy developer, who knows the relatively more human scale of the area in front of their property will never obscure the panoramic seaview their Grade A offices and apartments command.

There’s no beating the property developers in this town, and some of us invest so much energy into the “public consultation” over the district’s design.

Take the $6,000; it’s the lesser evil.