I’ve heard that in Hong Kong, there is hardly any public space at all, except for the jam-packed streets. To see it in person, the progress of their massive development seems inevitable. But, what happens if China’s biggest market disappoints their expectations? Will their domestic market and the rest of Asia fill the gap? Have other nations learned sufficiently from our folly to protect their domestic production, and leave China holding a burst industrial bubble? That’s what I thought when looking over Shanghai from the observation tower. What a fall this could be. Perhaps that is just the fears of old capitalism in it’s dotage.
First, Hong Kong actually possesses a very nice, very attractive public realm. Because the city is so dense, and because the private space of home is so modest, the life of the streets is robust, lively, and quite wonderful. And the density allows, even with the hills notwithstanding, some fair amount of lovely open spaces on Hong Kong Island.
But the question of whether China, and the world, can sustain both Shanghai and Hong Kong (and the breathtaking sprawl of the Beijing region, among others) is a very open one. If everything in the world is made in those places, as it mostly is at the moment, then perhaps. In the long run, not sustainable, but we’ll see. Your fears are the right fears – the patterns of development in those places has a fairly short life, methinks.
Mr. Steele, go soon, and plan to have a good look around. While your at it, take a look at Shanghai. As noted, the big Chinese dilemma has to do with whether both cities are sustainable, in the largest sense of that word.
I will try and say more about these matters sometime soon, once we get unpacked a bit….
The big question is our way of life sustainable given our current technology and expectations. Hong kong might be the most sustainable way to build that can be devised given those criteria. But that is a relative measure constant growth is certainly not sustainable. If everyone uses the USA as a model of attainment we are all doomed.
We are all doomed. Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore are no more sustainable than New York, Chicago and LA. It’s over.
And these older, more established cities look like Edens when compared to the exploding cities of China, for instance. Never mind what’s ahead in India.
Density is good, and some of the Asian cities we visited had fabulous transit options. But traffic, as just one example of what lies ahead, in Bangkok is beyond unbelievable. And Beijing. And Sydney. Sprawl is everywhere – Beijing is on at least its 10th ring road.
We saw not one thing to persuade us that there is any hope that any of the world’s big cities can or will, or even want to, be remade into anything remotely approaching resilient, self-sustaining urban centers. Slightest possible exception: Singapore.
It is true that in Hong Kong there is a 100% tax on the purchase of a car. In Vietnam it’s 200%. Great. But too little, too late.
As you said, we are doomed. You can get some really nice stuff on Hollywood Road, or at the Mall of the Emirates, or on Nanjing Road. But in reality, its over.
"We stand here confronted by insurmountable opportunity."
A Working Definition
A sustainable city is one that finds the means (forms, shapes, structures and activities) to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
The Shock of the New…
"But an architect intent on being different may in the end prove as troubling as an over-imaginative pilot or doctor."
Alain de Botton
How to Make the Right Choice
"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."
"There is always an easy solution to every human problem - neat, plausible, and wrong."
H. L. Mencken
"They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself."
"A solo driver in a Ford Focus uses 600 percent more energy per person per mile than a pedestrian; a Camaro spends 1,000 percent as much. Thus, if you are going to drive, please share."
A New Chapter Begins
Welcome. We have embarked on a journey of exploration, a journey with many destinations. We invite you to join us: these pages will provide a time and place for us to share our discoveries, and for you to share your thoughts. Onward!