Hong Kong’s urban development crisis is about to reach a breaking point.
The reason why I say so is because over the years, the government has been giving overriding priority to real-estate development in the overall urban planning strategy while neglecting other crucial elements such as air quality.
The obsession with real-estate development at the expense of other equally important factors in urban planning has taken a heavy toll on the quality of life of the citizens.
Given this, it is time for the administration to reflect on its long-standing approach to town planning and drastically review the current model of urban development so as to redress the situation before it is too late.
Take air pollution as an example. According to a joint study titled “The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the economic case for action” published in 2016 by the World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Hong Kong’s “total welfare losses” caused by air pollution in terms of GDP percentage was 12.49 percent, and was ranked second among the 142 countries and regions that were examined.
In comparison, the same losses for mainland China were just 9.92 percent, while those of India and Cambodia were only 7.69 percent and 8.16 percent respectively. The figures suggest that air pollution in Hong Kong has become so severe that it is virtually draining a significant portion of the local economic growth.
To put the figures in perspective, in 2013 alone, air pollution cost the city some HK$364 billion, which was equal to all the government expenditures on education, healthcare, security, environment and food, as well as social welfare, combined in that year.
That same amount of money also accounts for 65 percent of the total government spending in 2018.
Unfortunately, it appears the Department of Health, which is supposed to look after public health, just can’t be bothered to address the fundamental issue of how our polluted air, water source and even soil as a result of the government’s highly uniform and homogeneous urban development model are threatening public health.
Instead, all the department did is blame the deteriorating health conditions among Hong Kong’s citizens entirely on their unhealthy lifestyle, while ignoring the negative and far-reaching implications of our flawed environmental and urban development model for our citizens’ health.
As a matter of fact, air pollution has become the fourth most common cause for premature deaths around the world. And if we combine the negative effects of indoor and outdoor air pollution, they constitute a bigger threat to health than those caused by smoking and drinking alcohol.
I believe it is time for the Hong Kong government to ditch its outdated doctrines and mindset in urban planning and start giving priority to the “human dimension”, rather than just develop more real-estate, in the urban development strategy in the days ahead.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 9
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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