Published: 02:52, February 6, 2023 | Updated: 09:44, February 6, 2023
Lantau Tomorrow Vision can become another success like Shatin
By Winnie Tang

To rejuvenate rural municipalities and to reduce population concentration in the capital, the Japanese government is set to offer families with children relocating from the Tokyo metropolitan area a subsidy up to 1 million yen ($7,800) per child, up from 300,000 yen, with effect from April this year. 

If an eligible couple with two children under 18 years old moves to and starts a business in their new area of residence, they will receive up to 5 million yen in financial support.

So far, the response to the program has been poor, with only 2,381 people having moved out of the capital using the financial support in fiscal 2021. Indeed, it is difficult to reverse demographic decline in old towns as well as to attract people to move to smaller cities.

This reminds me of the challenge of the Lantau Tomorrow Vision / Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands (KYCAI) project. According to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government’s proposals, a three-island design will adopt a 15-minute neighborhood concept for a livable community to accommodate a population of up to 550,000 and provide 270,000 employment opportunities. How can we achieve these goals?

A successful example of new town planning in Hong Kong is Shatin. In the early 1970s, Shatin was just a rural township of 30,000 residents. Today, it has grown into a large new town with a population of over 690,000. Through large-scale land reclamation, the total development area of Shatin (including Ma On Shan) is nearly 3,600 hectares (3.6 times that of the KYCAI). The Shatin community is well-developed, with railways, highways, hospitals, schools, commerce, entertainment and leisure facilities. In contrast, after more than 20 years of development, Tin Shui Wai is still considered remote by many people of Hong Kong. It is an example of poor planning comprising a basket of culprits, including the housing mix, transport system and job opportunities, pointed out by a group of researchers from the University of Hong Kong. How can the government avoid the emergence of another so-called “tragic town” like Tin Shui Wai?

The demographics of the local population have changed significantly in recent decades. We are facing an aging population and a reduced workforce. According to the census in 2021, the elderly population aged 65 or above constituted 20 percent of the population, while children aged 14 or below accounted for 10 percent. This is the opposite of the population distribution 30 years ago, when children accounted for 20 percent of the population with less than 10 percent as elderly. Meanwhile, in the past two years, the working population has decreased by 140,000. How can we repeat the success of building a vibrant community like Shatin?

By using advanced technologies, the coordination of efforts in solving the intertwining urban planning issues can be more readily achieved.

By using advanced technologies, the coordination of efforts in solving the intertwining urban planning issues can be more readily achieved

Take mobility as an example. The KYCAI project is supposed to “connect the world and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, and develop key routes for opening up Hong Kong’s strategic transportation network”, while the general public would be more concerned about the fare, the journey time and the convenience. Therefore, the Transport Department should make the best use of its Intelligent Road Network (IRN), a government data platform that provides information on roads and traffic across Hong Kong, to satisfy all these needs. With geographic information, the IRN links the road network’s data, such as traffic directions, turning restrictions at road junctions, traffic and pedestrian flow with real-time updates.

It is not only useful for internal reference and applications, but also beneficial to the private sector, including telecom companies, fleet and cargo operators, and logistics companies.

At present, the IRN is not fully deployed, nor does it cover the 82-kilometer-long cycle network in the New Territories. The authorities should integrate all information on a single platform for easy planning and management. An application programming interface (API) is also essential for information technology organizations to develop smart mobility applications such as car navigation and personalized information services for the convenience of the general public.

Meanwhile, the environmental conservation and sustainability of fisheries are also key considerations of the development. In a letter to the government, Steven Ho Chun-yin, the legislator representing the Agriculture and Fisheries Sector, noted that the preliminary survey findings of the government “show moderate to high level of fishing activities” in the area; how adversely the large-scale reclamation will affect the industry is not yet known. It is certain that in the process of developing transport infrastructure and new waterways, designated areas like restricted zones, sludge pits or marine parks are highly likely to be created. They will inevitably impinge on fishing activities in the waters.

To maximize the potential of the sea, we can follow the example set by the coastal city of Singapore. The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore has developed the precious sea resources through advanced technologies with a single information platform for marine, coastal, and land data with input from 11 government agencies in 2019, and built a virtual twin called GeoSpace-Sea. The virtual twin allows data to be presented in two-dimensional and three-dimensional formats for the authority to monitor coastal and ocean activities in real time. It enables planning of waterfront use and land reclamation, coordination of desalination plants and sewage discharge, fisheries management and conservation of marine biodiversity, as well as developing tourism and recreation for the general public.

The core of the GeoSpace-Sea is its geographic information system, which is an open system to integrate information and data for analysis, including above- and below-ground facilities, land use, and demographics. Even images, such as voxel layers for ocean variables like seawater temperature, salinity, or dissolved oxygen, can be presented. To integrate with data from other sources, including sonar, satellites, submarines and underwater cameras, we can form a comprehensive view of the underwater world with 3D images for making better decisions.

With the new government budget plan coming up soon, I hope the HKSAR government will be able to improve planning of new development areas such as KYCAI with advanced information technologies. This will not only protect the fisheries and the environment, but also ensure that transportation facilities are well-designed, so as to make this new place more attractive to the public.

The author is an adjunct professor in the Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, the University of Hong Kong.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.