[Seminar] Hong Kong – Vienna Dialogue: Smart Urban Planning – The Vienna Smart City Framework and Hong Kong’s ‘2030+’ Strategies

[Seminar] Hong Kong – Vienna Dialogue: Smart Urban Planning - The Vienna Smart City Framework and Hong Kong’s ‘2030+’ Strategies

Date(s): 07/11/2016
Time: 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

City Gallery, Central

Language: English

Admission: Free

Event Partner(s): City Gallery, Planning Department of the HKSAR Government, City of Vienna

Speaker(s):Mr. K.K. Ling, Head, Planning Department of the HKSAR Government; Mrs. DI Angela Winkler, Deputy Head, City of Vienna, Dept. MA 18, Urban Development and Urban Planning (Stadtentwicklung und Stadtplanung) (MA 18)

  • Mr. K.K. Ling, Director of Planning, Planning Department of the HKSAR Government
    (click here to download the presentation)
  • Mrs. DI Angela Winkler, Deputy Head, City of Vienna, Dept. MA 18, Urban Development and Urban Planning (Stadtentwicklung und Stadtplanung) (MA 18)

Both Vienna and Hong Kong can look back at a long history of strategic urban planning. Consecutive development plans have been released to respond to changing urban conditions. Both cities are now looking for ‘smart’ ways that can safeguard their respective international positions while simultaneously make provisions for greater ‘liveability’.

In 2014 Vienna released its current ‘Smart City Wien Framework Strategy’, which presents a comprehensive development vision up to the year 2050, with concrete intermediate steps to reach gradually its objectives. The Framework Strategy is based on three essential pillars: (a) a high quality of life for all inhabitants, (b) a significant reduction of resource consumption and (c) strong support for innovation.

For the first time, Hong Kong presented its brand new strategy ‘Hong Kong 2030+’, which is now entering the public consultation stage before implementation will begin in 2018. Hong Kong 2030+ speaks of ‘building blocks’ for ‘Planning for a Liveable High-density City’, ‘Embracing New Economic Challenges and Opportunities’ and ‘Creating Capacity for Sustainable Growth’.

The dialogue between the prominent main speakers shed light on similarities and differences between the visions and planning modes of the two cities. Both cities make use of current key concepts of ‘liveability’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘innovation’. But due to their respective situations and planning traditions, they understand them differently and assign different priorities to them.

Hong Kong _______________________________________________________________

Mr. K.K. Ling emphasized in his presentation of ‘Hong Kong 2030+’ that Hong Kong first of all needs to defend and further enhance its position as an economic powerhouse, regional business gateway and international financial center (‘Asia’s World City’). It must provide adequate land resources for businesses and diversify its economic base. There is therefore a need to develop new building sites (including large-scale reclamations) but also (importantly) to increase density in inner-city core areas by ‘rejuvenating’ the increasingly ageing building stock (dating back to the 1980s, 1970s or before) and converting brownfield sites to new uses. Under current guidelines, about 3,600 hectares of land can be made available for future urban development. The real need, however, is estimated at about 4,800 hectares. The city must provide more land and infrastructure in particular for growth-enhancing businesses and for facilitating closer cooperation in innovation and technology. At least 300 additional hectares of land need to be earmarked for business development purposes. Work on the new Central Business District 2 in East Kowloon is already under way, while plans for a new reclamation project closer to the airport will allow further expansions in the future (East Lantau Metropolis = Central Business District 3).

Overall, Hong Kong 2030+ would use large-scale reclamation and the regeneration of brownfield sites to create three ‘corridors’ of development: (a) a Western economic corridor linking the airport and its planned third runway with the Western New Territories and (via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge system) the Western Pearl River Delta, (b) an Eastern knowledge and technology corridor connecting the Hong Science and Technology Park with major universities and industrial estates from Tai Po to Tseung Kwan O and (c) a Northern economic belt with seven additional cross border control points, mostly for the efficient movement of goods and people but also expected to create significant job growth. All three corridors will require massive housing projects (New Towns) in mixed-use planning modes.

At the same time as a shrinking labor force is expected, housing and services need to adjust to the needs of a rapidly ageing population. The city must also take measures to ‘enhance livability’ in high-density environments both old and new. A major problem is the shortage of personal living space in Hong Kong, which demands an increase in the ratio for public open space and community facilities (2m2 to be raised to 2.5m2 per person). Mr. Ling stressed that the government would have to make more of its ‘green and blue assets’ (i.e. green and maritime spaces) and bring nature (park and agricultural land) into built-up areas, thus preserving and promoting biodiversity. The development strategy would have to include the re-naturalization of spaces of relatively low ecological value in urban areas. One of the planned projects reflecting this approach would be the conversion of the King Yip Street nullah into a restored ‘Tsui Ping River’, which would also help redevelop the surrounding areas under the Energizing Kowloon East programme.

While many big cities worldwide use changes in mobility concepts to reduce dependence on finite resources and strive for ecological sustainability, Mr. K.K. Ling maintained that HK was already in a good position. 80% of all motorized trips are already by public transport. All the same, the current growth rate in private car ownership would have to come down significantly. The HK government would therefore continue to invest massively in the expansion of urban rail services but also in the smooth traffic flow along north-south axes.

In summary, the Hong Kong 2030+ urban planning concept takes note of environmental and health issues (sustainability and liveability), but sees corresponding measures as added value in an overall concept of economic competitiveness and growth.

Vienna _______________________________________________________________

By contrast, Mrs. Angelika Winkler’s presentation pointed out Vienna’s own distinctive way of planning. The ‘Smart City Wien Framework Strategy’ provides a conceptual basis rather than an actual blueprint for specific infrastructure building. It maps core issues of importance and values rather than creating a long-term scenario of the physical appearance of the city in the future. The Framework Strategy should then guide the various public administration sectors to develop their own plans and intermediate implementation measures. This should help to overcome the ‘silo mentality’ of the traditional civil service departments and result in a planning frame deliberately open so as to allow adjustments for new and unforeseen developments. Mrs. Winkler emphasized the holistic and participatory nature of such planning, engaging the whole city administration and the Viennese citizens.

The Viennese ‘Smart City’ concept does not simply refer to technology use. Instead, Vienna city aspires foremost to reduce finite resources consumption significantly (climate protection goals) while maintaining and even improving the quality of living for the inhabitants. Innovation and new technologies would have to support these objectives. Mrs. Winkler made it clear that ‘smart city’ development should not be driven primarily by profit motives on the part of commercial companies but by citizens’ needs. Innovation would mean foremost investments in education and research. Underlying Vienna’s approach is the strong conviction that all citizens should live in attractive districts and should have the chance to participate actively in neighborhood development (social inclusion). The Framework Strategy should also contribute to gender equality in society.

In relation to environmental goals, Mrs. Winkler explained that Vienna owns its energy supply, district cooling and heating systems and its water supply. It also co-owns the airport, sewage systems, a large part of the urban real estate and the urban-regional public transport network. 220,000 flats remain in the hands of the city government. The high proportion of public ownership of utilities and housing stock allow Vienna a significant influence over urban planning and (crucially) rental levels. They also render ambitious goals feasible, such as a planned CO2 emissions reduction of 80% by 2050 and an increase of renewables to 50% of all energy consumption. Urban public transport and inner-city logistics should by then be CO2 free.

Already by 2025, 80% of all urban trips should be by using ‘green’ nobility modes. While in 2015, 27% of urban trips were still by private car (using 65% of public space available). This should come down to 20% in the near future. ‘Green’ mobility modes include walking, cycling and public transport (currently at 39%). Walking and cycling now have planning priority, resulting in a progressive reduction of urban parking space, a massive extension of cycling roads and car-free green belts in the city. Urban design is in the process of re-inventing streets as spaces of social encounters rather than arteries for private car traffic. Private car ownership is already declining in the city, while car sharing is officially encouraged and becoming increasingly popular. The city government is also currently supporting the introduction of e-mobility schemes such as subsidizing a fleet of e-taxis. The city also invests in new metro and tram lines to expand capacity of the public transport network. Network patronage has received an enormous boost by offering a yearly ticket for 365 € (i.e. an average transport cost of 1€ per day across the entire network (8.5 HK$).

As the city’s population is expected to grow by approx. 10% in the coming years, Vienna is in the process of converting brownfield sites for new mixed-use developments as well as planning for new towns on the periphery. It is expected that until 2025 165,000 flats will be added to the existing housing stock. Mrs. Winkler explained that the new towns would have a higher density than before (with a height of 6 to 10 stories) but also offer more green spaces and social facilities within walking distance. The new flats would be built in relatively small lots by so-called ‘Baugruppen’. These are public/private cooperation ventures in which building developers are selected in a competitive and publicly supervised process. The architects then design buildings in compliance with city government strategic development goals and on the basis of the wishes of future tenants (customized flats). There has been an increasing citizen-led demand for urban community gardening space, participation in citizen-owned solar power plant schemes as well as citizen input for the development of apps for neighborhood resource-sharing, open data use and communication platforms, all of which the city supports.

In summary, the ‘Smart City Wien Framework Strategy’ appeared to be much more citizen-centric and ‘humanistic’ than the apparently ‘technocratic’ Hong Kong 2030+ Strategy. Vienna also has clear overarching goals in terms of environmental sustainability whereas Hong Kong defines ‘sustainability’ primarily in economic terms. By contrast, economic aspects of urban planning (including technology and innovation) appear to be of very little significance in the Viennese strategy. The contrasts reflect the different political parameters in Europe and Hong Kong, but urban development in Hong Kong is also by necessity of a far larger magnitude than in Vienna. All the same, Vienna’s strategy appears to be in line with urban development schemes elsewhere in large cities, while Hong Kong is seemingly rather out of step with long-term urban sustainability trends, all of which are increasingly determined by climate protection goals and international agreements.

Discussion _______________________________________________________________

In the follow-up discussion, the speakers elaborated on the contrasts between the two planning perspectives. Mr. Ling explained that Hong Kong’s strong focus on economic growth is dictated by the fact that a solid economic base is essential to any quality of life enhancement and the provision of services. Quality of life would be dependent foremost on large-scale strategic investments in infrastructure – which in turn secures employment as a prime element of preserving the individuals’ dignity. Adjustments of planning, however, would be possible when and if the need arises, and measures to improve environmental quality can undoubtedly be included in urban planning.

In terms of mobility concepts, it appeared doubtful whether the promotion of biking in HK would be feasible. An alternative solution is mixed-use development on district levels so as to reduce the need for lengthy commuting in the first place. It should also be the aim to built all further housing within easy walking distance from public transport lines. Mrs. Winkler argued for the introduction of permissible speed to 30-50km/hr on principle and the deliberate merging of (slow) car and pedestrian traffic. Mr. Ling rejected this idea for Hong Kong as unpractical due to the high population density. Instead, vertical separation of the mode of transport should be sought systematically. That would not exclude the reservation of more space for pedestrians in inner-city areas. There are also disparities between public attitudes to car ownership in the two cities: While demand for individual ownership has decreased in Vienna, it remains high in Hong Kong. As a consequence, the pressure to grant more parking space is high in Hong Kong, while Vienna now allows parking only underground and makes parking therefore prohibitively expensive.

In both cities there is a need to secure popular support for any future development plan. As ordinary citizens require a ‘translation’ of strategic plans, Vienna has increasingly involved NGOs and professional groups in interpreting the proposed plan’s significance for citizens’ everyday life. Similarly, HK planners have relied on the media as well as civic groups to interpret development plans for a better understanding of the planners’ general intentions. In both cities, however, citizen-centric schemes seem less developed than would be desirable. In Vienna, the government tries to sustain long-term dialogue with citizens, while Hong Kong also refers to internationally benchmarked definitions of ‘liveability’ (economic development, safety and convenience of public services, affordability of medical, cultural or educational provisions, quality of governance and environmental quality).

Since public housing provides only for relatively small units, both cities agree that more efforts need to be undertaken to improve shared public spaces. For the purpose of recreation and leisure, Vienna therefore tries to ‘re-possess’ the streets as centers of urban life. Hong Kong planners, in turn, advocate more green public space within or between housing developments, ‘urban parks’ and in particular ‘urban plazas’ which allow variegated and flexible usage. There is, however, some resistance from other government departments responsible for street management or public health and safety.

There was also agreement that heritage conservation should be part of developmental strategies. In Vienna, the law prescribes this for historical inner-city districts, while buildings in peripheral areas can be redeveloped (albeit with a guarantee of existing rental contracts). In Hong Kong, many heritage buildings are privately owned and do not fall under the protection ordinance. Their preservation is possible only when the government can acquire and renovate them for new usage purposes (‘revitalization’).

Finally, Mrs. Winkler reported that the Viennese scheme of citizen investment in solar power panels has been extremely successful. Citizens can buy a share in energy production (equivalent of one solar panel) for 950€ with a city-guaranteed return of investment for 10 years. Surplus energy produced by private buildings can be fed back into the grid. As for Hong Kong, Mr. Ling saw little chance for solar energy in the city due to space constraints and high maintenance cost. It would be better to invest instead in better insulation of buildings and improved, more energy-efficient cooling systems.

Background Information _________________________________________________

Smart City Wien Framework Strategy:

Hong Kong 2030+ Strategy:



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