Response on “Long Term Housing Strategy: Building Sustainable Homes”, Consultation document September 2013
02 November 2013

Response from the Hong Kong Institute of Urban Design on:

“Long Term Housing Strategy: Building Sustainable Homes”, Consultation document September 2013

The Hong Kong Institute of Urban Design considers that housing policy should form a major part of a long term ‘Vision’ for Hong Kong, which addresses the aspirations of the population in terms of quality of life issues and the competiveness of the city in terms of international living standards. The ‘Vision’ should encapsulate strategic thinking for comprehensive land use change based on technological advances beyond the first half of the 21st century. The Institute is in general support of the main objective of the consultation document that every household should be adequately housed. Such an objective, however, should be considered within the context of a long-term vision. The proposed policy document outline measures should therefore look beyond the proposed ten year period, which, in planning terms, is quite a short time period.

The HKIUD wishes to highlight the following issues in considering any future housing policy:


1. Promote diversity in housing type and tenure

A sustainable and inclusive city consists of mixed and well-integrated districts and areas. Housing of different type and size will offer choice, and provide mixed demographic populations, with varied age and income groups. The people on the cover of the consultation document are all unique individuals; let’s not give them the same housing units to choose from!

A wide variety in type and size will also enable ‘aging in place’, which, although mentioned in the consultation document, should be a starting principle.


2. Increase focus on quality

There is scant mention of ‘quality’ in the consultation document, nor a convincing description of what constitutes a ‘sustainable city’. Hong Kong has a long track record of implementing large scale public housing, however recent examples, as seen at Tin Shui Wai and Tseung Kwan O have demonstrated that the traditional planning and implementation strategy has been deficient in meeting the current or future needs and expectations of citizens.


3. Promote mixed-use society

A sustainable community is not monofunctional, but a mixed-use and well-integrated society. Housing should be integrated together with significant employment opportunities, varied community and leisure facilities, life-long education and training facilities and an overall focus on health and wellness issues, where people do not have to travel great distances and can easily access open space. Activation of streets will result in vibrant areas. Large, monofunctional housing areas targeted at specific social sectors is a misguided development model and creates long-term and wide-ranging structural problems.


4. Implement phased development

Construction of large-scale building projects within a short time frame leads to collective deterioration. This can lead to rapid neighbourhood ageing and put severe stress on future maintenance budgets. Rather than building large-scale ‘green field’ sites we promote maximizing options within the existing built environment.


5. Open up public space

High density does not equate with a lack of public open space. Well-designed districts provide high quality and varied public space in close proximity to housing. A focus on the quantity of housing ignores the fact that the space in between the buildings is as important. A good sense of place using good design will enrich people’s lives and add long-term value to the housing stock.


6. Allow adaptive reuse of industrial buildings

Industrial buildings can be a great resource for quality housing. There are a number of specific issues but numerous examples around the world show that these can be overcome and that there is a market for converted industrial buildings. Adaptive reuse saves demolition cost and waste, and will add variety to the townscape.


7. Review the current Building Regulations and Outline Zoning Plan

Current development control does not stimulate well-integrated mixed-use communities and should be overhauled. As a pilot, exemption of development control can be considered in ‘special development districts’ to promote diversity, flexibility and creativity.  


8. Allow flexibility in housing design

A number of alternative housing solutions can be implemented, for example temporary housing, to provide variety and find affordable solutions. An emphasis could be placed to develop quality low-cost housing with shared facilities.


9. Encourage maintenance of the existing housing stock

Currently there are 2,599,000 housing units. A strategy should be devised to utilize these assets as best as possible. Obviously the state of this stock will affect the need for new housing units. In this context the need for accurate predictions for population growth or decline, and hence households, is very clear. Perhaps more can be done to promote maintenance and renovation of older buildings, which would also stimulate aging-in-place. Many tenement blocks from the 1960s, for example, are structurally sound whilst the older cities worldwide demonstrate the benefits of long-term retention of their building stock in nurturing cultural identity and collective memory. Such retention would decrease forced displacement, whilst positively adding to the visual character of Hong Kong.


10. Prioritise pedestrian and bicycle traffic

New districts should be planned with a priority for pedestrians and bicyclists (and other non-motorised traffic) and public transport connectivity. Private vehicles should be deterred through restricted parking allowance and access.


11. Mandate urban design in the planning process

A city is a complex entity and the planning and designing of it requires different skills and disciplines. Urban design bridges a gap between town planning and architecture and, as such, should form a part of the development process at every stage.


12. Develop space standards

It is clear that too many citizens are forced to live in very small rooms and flats. Minimum space standards should be implemented to safeguard people from unlivable conditions.



PAC 2 December 2013