This article originally appeared in HongKongEcho 85 - PEARL RIVER DELTA: Can Hong Kong ride the wave?
Greater integration with the Pearl River Delta (PRD) is an inevitable part of Hong Kong’s future, says Anne Kerr, Global Head Cities at Mott MacDonald. But it’s not just bridges and roads; integration is a question of people.
HongKongEcho: How do we set the scene for the PRD’s infrastructure projects and what it means for integration?
Anne Kerr: The PRD as a region has been talked about for a very long time, and it hasn’t come about by chance, but rather through consultation and dialogue.
In the early 90s, one of the things Hong Kong was looking at in its strategic plan was how to get goods and services from Western China across into the city for distribution to the rest of the world and Northern China. The Hong Kong – Zhuhai – Macao Bridge started to be looked at 30 years ago, possibly even before that, because that seemed to be a missing piece of national infrastructure for the connectivity of the region. This connection and corridor significantly reduces both time and fuel costs which, in a highly competitive market, is important
So this project fed quite a lot of infrastructure development for Hong Kong and Southern China over the last couple of decades. I think in this sense it’s mutually beneficial. This connectivity is an inevitable part of Hong Kong’s development. It’s absolutely fundamental that there’s a proper integration so that it’s not just a one-way street.
When it comes to infrastructure, it has to also be remembered that Shenzhen is a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), as designated in 1979 by Deng Xiaoping. It’s been replicated in many other places over the world – there’s now roughly 4,000 of them – and Shenzhen is one of the most successful. The purpose was to drive infrastructure and economic development, so you have to agree it’s been a great success.
HKE: Another major project is the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link which will cut commuting times between the cities to 14 minutes. What will this mean for Hong Kong?
AK: I think it will be quite significant because it means that people are able to live in Shenzhen and work in Hong Kong and vice versa. So there will be a lot more transfer of people in terms of living and working. But also I think it’s quite interesting in terms of the overall liveability because one thing to note about Hong Kong, Futian and Shenzhen is that all these places have their own individual characters that make up their communities. We should avoid creating a homogenous PRD region. We want to make sure there’s not a loss of heritage, culture and identity. We shouldn’t be trying to make Shenzhen a replica of Hong Kong and vice versa. That would be fundamentally catastrophic because you’re not leveraging the benefits and advantages of both places. Instead, we should be looking at making them complementary – this is very important.
HKE: Are we going to see a fully connected megalopolis for the region? Is that really possible and how far can this integration go?
AK: I think it is possible. If you look at Tokyo and see how many cities make up Greater Tokyo – it’s absolutely a megalopolis. It’s a really good example where you can see that the population has boomed over the last 30-40 years because there’s been integration of infrastructure and economies. And yet each individual city or borough component of Tokyo has its own characteristics, this integration makes it easy to develop transport solutions and to develop an integrated situation where you can live in one place and work in another. San Francisco and New York provide further examples.
I think the integration can physically extend quite far especially with connected transport such as high speed rail. Of course there’s also the law of diminishing returns which means you can’t have one singular port; you’ve got to have competition as well as development, economic and employment opportunities in different places.
Is there a point to be made that Hong Kong is nonetheless a distinct territory? It’s not just another city within the mainland – what does it mean for the ‘separateness’ of Hong Kong?
AK: Hong Kong does have its own history, identity and sense of place and also, like every city it has evolved and will continue to do so. I personally would not like to see a homogeneous integration, but rather evolving communities where history, culture, diversity and differences are celebrated and built upon.
HKE: Can we expect to see more people crossing over the border for work between the PRD and Hong Kong?
AK: Absolutely. There’ll surely be more two way flows. We see it already with the number of children who are attending schools in the Northern provinces of Hong Kong. I think that’s one area that’ll continue to develop. Liveability and people’s aspirations need careful consideration in developing and expanding communities, and the characteristics that make Hong Kong a World City should be treasured.
HKE: So it’s about more than just bridges and roads?
AK: Personally I would say it’s all about people; that’s what will drive the development. People are very resilient but also very clear in what they want to do in terms of how they want to live, how they want to grow and educate their families. So I think people will be voting with their feet and their dollars.
HKE: Perhaps there will be greater opportunities for people in Hong Kong through these infrastructure projects?
AK: I would have thought so, because with greater connectivity there should be more opportunities, development and change. People often fear change and would prefer things to remain static, but if change can be perceived as an opportunity, benefits very often flow.
HKE: You mention connectivity; is ‘integration’ is too pejorative?
AK: I think that’s a valid point; connectivity might be a better term. Rather than building on the fear of the unknown, we need to change the conversation about integration to focus on the opportunities.
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