Thursday, June 19, 2014

planning

The term 'planning' usually infers a process regarding decision making for the future. The business of town and regional planning involves stages of information gathering and market research that are analyzed to eventually form a comprehensive proposal to best suit the needs of a community. Or at least that's what I got out of my Master's of Regional Planning. Of course, I haven't used that degree to the scale that I use my architecture degrees so my knowledge may be old fashioned.

At my former job, I had the misfortune of working on a plan that I found to be wrong in almost every aspect. It was a poor idea featuring aesthetically repugnant, repetitive housing elements, to be located in one the the most culturally rich areas of Hong Kong. This new development would be built in the middle of a rural, farming community, which would effectively destroy the fledgling eco-tourism business there. I decided that the best that I could do was to offer a better solution because the developer was dead set of developing the area into high rise housing and proposed a hub that contained not only stacks of high rises, but also infrastructure and amenities that could tie in with the organic farms and outdoor centers. The proposal won and we were give the project. A few months in, the supervisor that I hated with the rage of a thousand burning suns decided to increase the developer's already high profit margin and withdrew most of the amenities to make room for more housing on giant retail podiums. The fertile ground was replaced with concrete blocks. This signaled the end of my career at the company. I may be considered a sell out for joining the ranks of corporate architecture but even I have my limits of endurance.

Reading about the protests at LegCo, I get it. The government is trying to alleviate the housing crisis and its plans to benefit the majority are going to displace a minority of villagers. I agree wholeheartedly that the trend for skyrocketing housing prices that put home ownership out of reach to the average citizen needs mitigation. But instead of addressing the causes of these problems, which is not an easy task, the solution proposed is to raze a village and build a new town. It will probably be (relatively) affordable due to the remoteness of its location and mass produced, cheap construction of its housing estates. While I can, and will, remonstrate the government for coming up with such a crap solution, I also understand why it did. The problems are not easy. The Hong Kong housing market is extremely volatile. Contributing to the crisis are mainland buyers who bought 20 to 40% of new homes between 2009 and 2013 (they were eventually slowed down by the stamp duty). But mainlanders are not entirely to blame for the poor public housing ownership policies, nor for the growing income disparity that is steadily rising. This is a territory with the highest retail rental prices in the world and third most expensive rental market, and yet the median monthly household income is $20,700. Encroaching into the rural areas and throwing up a bunch of ugly housing blocks isn't going to solve the problem.

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