More to look out for Greater Bay Area’s path to sustainability

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It was a hot Friday afternoon in Hong Kong. The suffocating heat reached 32°C in the urban area – not a pleasant day for anyone out on the street.

What we experienced is a result from the urban heat island effect, says John J. Batten, global director of cities at Arcadis.

At the annual conference organized by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) to discuss how Hong Kong can drive the GBA development, Mr Batten, a specialist in urban sustainability, spoke of the environmental challenges Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area face. Urban heat island is only one of the many challenges.

“Sea-level rise, real-time traffic data, urban heat island and solid waste management are something we should look at,” says Mr Batten. “They are the additional livability parameters to measure as we approach 2030+ vision.”

He was referring to the Hong Kong 2030+, a development strategy by chief executive Carrie Lam’s administration to keep the city sustainable beyond 2030. It aims at creating capacity for sustainable growth.

He began with sea-level rise, saying it is a real threat in both Hong Kong and other GBA cities. Hong Kong has seen its sea level in Victoria Harbour rise at a rate of 31mm per decade since 1954, while the sea level in the South China Sea rose 28mm in 2017.

“The high sea level has intensified the effected of storms and flooding in coastal cities such as Guangdong and Zhejiang,” says Mr Batten.

He also warned the urban heat island is in play in literally all the GBA cities.

“Materials like concrete trap heat in the city. This creates a challenge for us to make our cities livable,” he warned.

Road congestion a major issue in GBA

Among the challenges the GBA cities face, Batten touched the most on real-time traffic data, which can cause vehicle congestion if there is no data sharing among the cities.

“In the San Francisco Bay Area, there is good monitoring and sharing,” he says. “They share common data, CCTV and sensors. People wake up in the morning, go on their app to see which is the best way to go to work. The [SF] Bay area uses a common big data platform.”

However, Batten did not see this coming in the GBA.

“This poses a real challenge for the GBA,” he says. “Hong Kong’s platforms are not supported in China. They are owned by Google and Facebook. So you’ve got some disconnect here. And applications used in China are probably not used in Hong Kong.”

“The Super Golden Week last year saw unprecedented road congestion across the GBA cities due to the lack of this data sharing,” says Mr Batten. “Six of the Guangdong cities are among the top 15 congested cities in China.”

This is an important matter to take into consideration when it comes to managing the GBA as a regional body to facilitate flows of good, talent and business.

Mr Batten noted that Hong Kong can have a role to play in this regional coordination.

“It can be an opportunity for Hong Kong. It can act as a super connector to bridge the gap, to build a data warehouse for transportation,” he adds.

The GBA, according to Mr Batten, is an environmentally sensitive and co-dependent ecosystem. It should be cooperatively monitored and managed.

Managing the GBA as a regional body requires local governance supplemented with cooperation, and city-based focus is counter-productive.

“The Hong Kong 2030+ vision needs to encompass GBA in its scope,” says Mr Batten. “After all, we are neighbours. We share resources, and we live in a big shared environment.”

(Printer – R&R Publishing Limited, Suite 705, 7/F, Cheong K. Building, 84-86 Des Voeux Road Central, HK)