Jimmy Leung - “It Exerts a Lot of Pressure”

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Oct 04, 2013
by Oscar Tollast
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Jimmy Leung - “It Exerts a Lot of Pressure”

Former Hong Kong director of planning discusses effects of tourism and sustainability Mr Leung speaking at this year's symposium

In 2012, the United States welcomed 67 million visitors with a surface area of 9,826,675 square kilometers to be explored. During the same period, Hong Kong, with a surface area of 1,104 square kilometers, welcomed 48 million visitors.

It was a perfect example to question the concept of sustainability and was illustrated in Peter Cookson-Smith’s opening lecture on ‘Planning and Sustainable Dimensions of Asian City Development’, during this year’s Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association symposium.

Sitting amongst the audience was Jimmy Leung, the former director of planning for the Hong Kong Government. Now an honorary professor in the Department of Urban Planning and Design at the University of Hong Kong, Mr Leung was at Salzburg Global for a symposium on ‘Sustainability and the City: America and the Urban World’.

Following that day’s morning presentations, Mr Leung spoke to Salzburg Global to explain how Hong Kong has tried to cope with this level of tourism.“It exerts a lot of pressure on the local community,” he said, sitting in the library of the Schloss Leopoldskron.

“Some of the shopping spaces have been turned into catering for tourists. Local shops cannot afford rent and there’s congestion. But we’re trying to cope with the supply side by providing more hotels, more public spaces, and expanding the transport infrastructure to cater for this growth.”

It’s not the first time Mr Leung has visited Salzburg Global. As a fellow of the session on ‘The Global Entrepreneurial City’ in 2002, Mr Leung recognized how the location helped stimulate discussion and new ideas.

“It’s awesome. It’s so beautiful: the palace, the lake. More importantly, it’s the people. There’s always people coming from a number of countries and can exchange ideas.

“They can catch up with each other on what’s the latest in their cities and what they’re doing.

“You learn a lot through this kind of exchange, either formally within a session or just informally during our chats in our coffee breaks.”

One of the main discussion points stemming from Mr Cookson-Smith’s lecture was how to plan for the unplanned. It became the subject of debate but Mr Leung appeared quite confident in his opinion.

“The most successful cases in Hong Kong are not planned by the government.” He points to the use of mid-level escalators on Hong Kong Island as an example.

According to Mr Leung, governments can facilitate this type of development by providing better public spaces and making surrounding areas look more attractive.

“It regenerated the entire stretch of the area. It became a very vibrant area where people like to go any time of the day.

“It’s this type of unplanned situation that needs to be looked at and government itself has a role to play, too.”

In a career spanning 36 years, Mr Leung’s work has always somewhat been related to the city, building and urban planning. The subject of sustainability is “very attractive” to him.

“It is very important in the sense that sustainability involves social, economic and environmental aspects. In building a city, usually we build these major infrastructures, making the city work. It’s more economic-oriented.

“There comes a time that we need to look at other aspects like cultural activities, how to preserve biodiversity, not to mention minimize environmental pollution. All this has to come into play and make the city work, and make the people in the city happy.”

Mr Leung suggested Hong Kong has reclaimed over 6,800 hectares of land from the sea in the past 150 years. This process has contributed to the construction of an airport, ports, container terminals and many parts of the newer towns.

But a “very tricky situation” has since developed, after a series of judicial reviews has prevented reclamation within the Victoria Harbour. It presents a challenge for developers, but reaffirms the significance of sustainability in Hong Kong.

Mr Leung said, “We have to look outside the harbour for reclamation. We are to look at greenfield sites and brownfield sites for development. But this is very difficult because the land is mostly owned by the private sector.

“Somehow the community as a whole has to decide which way to go forward.”