I’m currently contributing a short, light-hearted political column to Hong Kong Time Out Magazine. Below is the uncut, original version of my latest piece…
Greenpeace won’t be happy with how I learned to stop worrying and love the skyscraper, but Hong Kong’s super high density set-up is actually a very economical model. Our compact living arrangements minimise the impact on the local environment, which is over 70% countryside, giving us one of the highest proportions of national park reserves in the world. It means almost everyone is well-connected to public transport, it quashes the need for car ownership, enables local economies and makes commuting to the supermarket an outlandish idea. One local blogger calculated that only 0.15% of the world’s land mass would be urbanised if everyone were to live, as he does, on an 18,000 person housing estate. Plus, efficient living needn’t denote a bleak and claustrophobic existence, as most land would be left to nature or for public use.
With 40% of East Asian urbanites residing in slums, the Hong Kong example could be the answer for people as well as the planet. Construction itself is of course a carbon-intensive business, so any new developments need to be sustainable and necessary. Some local developers, for instance, are starting to embrace low carbon concrete, water-cooled air-conditioning, energy-saving lighting and wind-flow friendly designs. Environmental activists should encourage rather than oppose affordable, residential high-rises in cities.
As the world’s urban population surpassed its rural head count this year, and with suburban lifestyles under threat from peak oil, cities are only set to grow further.
Experts will convene in Hong Kong next week ahead of December’s crucial UN negotiations in Copenhagen – our best, if not last, chance to stop climate change. They would do well to take note of how we are able to preserve the environment by staying away well from it!
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