/ Asia Pacific

Staying Globally Competitive

An Advisory Services panel urges Hong Kong leaders to retool urban design guidelines to encourage livability, thereby increasing the region’s competitive advantage.

A region with finite developable land, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) faces enormous pressures to remain a global gateway metropolis. On the one hand, the region’s mountainous terrain and conservation areas have placed natural limitations on new residential and commercial development, resulting in developers building up, rather than out. On the other hand, height restrictions aimed at preserving ridgeline views of mountains on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon from business districts poised for growth have complicated efforts to build a more vertically oriented city.

Urban design: While current urban design guidelines emphasize the preservation of mountain ridgeline views, the ULI panel recommended that improving the street-level experience and other livability factors should also be prioritized.

In FY 2017, a ULI Advisory Services panel was asked to review Hong Kong’s urban design guidelines and offer insight on how they can support the larger goals of the region’s master plan, Hong Kong 2030+. While the guidelines were conceived with good intentions, interviews with more than 50 stakeholders conducted by the panel revealed that they have been applied in a simplistic and rigid fashion, upholding certain priorities—such as preserving ridgeline views from a limited number of harbor-level vantage points—at the expense of others. For example, the limited supply of Class A office space in Hong Kong has driven up rents considerably, and livability factors such as clean air, urban open space, cultural and recreational amenities, and the street-level experience merit attention and improvement.

  • “Hong Kong is still one of the world’s great gateway cities, but is facing competition from Singapore, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and even Melbourne—all Pacific Rim cities that are on the rise and are magnets for financial services, talent, and innovation that define ‘world class.’ Our goal was to illuminate a path forward and create the framework for a better process by which government and the private sector can come together to help Hong Kong reach its full potential.”

    – Tom Murphy, Hong Kong Advisory Services Panel Chair
1 / 1

The guidelines require developers not to build within 20 percent of the ridgeline, yet limiting height and densities in a one-size-fits-all fashion risks the creation of a repetitive and monotonous skyline as opposed to a varied and iconic one, the panel observed. Panelists concluded that Hong Kong planning and building regulations need to be more flexible and encourage creative, context-specific solutions to the city’s urban development challenges.

“In an effort to maintain control of the urban development process, Hong Kong has implemented stringent urban design guidelines that in some cases stand in direct contradiction with several other priorities: livability/quality of life for residents through improvements to the public realm, open space, and greater public amenities; diversification of Hong Kong’s economy; and strengthening Hong Kong’s ability to attract world-class companies and talent,” said Tom Murphy, panel chair and ULI senior resident fellow.

ULI expertise: Murphy, the former mayor of Pittsburgh, has chaired several ULI Advisory Services panels as a senior resident fellow.

With rising office rents, constraints on development, and weak livability indicators, Hong Kong is vulnerable to losing its status as a globally competitive city as companies in the financial services industry—Hong Kong’s main economic driver—look elsewhere in Asia to establish a presence. In the global war for talent, livability is increasingly seen as a top priority and one that has been embraced by Singapore, for example.

“Hong Kong is still one of the world’s great gateway cities, but is facing competition from Singapore, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and even Melbourne—all Pacific Rim cities that are on the rise and are magnets for financial services, talent, and innovation that define ‘world class,’” Murphy said. “Our goal was to illuminate a path forward and create the framework for a better process by which government and the private sector can come together to help Hong Kong reach its full potential.”

Learn more about ULI Advisory Services and read the panel report on Hong Kong.

 

BY THE NUMBERS
1,100+

Advisory Services panels and local technical assistance panels delivered by ULI members to communities since 1947

Explore

/ Global

The Power of Emerging Trends

ULI’s annual series of forecasting publications for the global real estate industry sets the stage for the year ahead.

Read More
Dialogues

Trish Healy and
Alex Rose

  • Trish Healy
    ULI Americas Chairman
  • Alex Rose
    ULI Foundation
    Governor
Watch More