A new generation for regeneration
The government's proposal to build artificial islands for housing purposes has stirred debate recently, with many pointing out that there is plenty of undeveloped land in the New Territories. Actually, there are already plans to further develop some of the area's rural townships, and this will bring job opportunities.
In the case of Sha Tau Kok, major changes are afoot: the little-known border town has been hidden behind the veil of the Frontier Closed Area since the 1950s, but the strip of land is finally being opened up. As a side effect of its long seclusion, the tranquillity and rural character of Sha Tau Kok and its surroundings have been well preserved.
The Planning Department believes the town is suitable for developing eco-tourism and cultural tourism. It has commissioned Ove Arup & Partners to carry out a consultancy study on the enhancement of the rural township. Arup also looked at Lau Fau Shan, an oyster-farming village in Yuen Long district.
"Arup was the urban planner and urban designer for both projects," says Wilfred Lau, director of the consultancy firm. "We were responsible for formulating area improvement plans for the townships and their surrounding areas, and developing conceptual schemes and preliminary design drawings."
Job opportunities in connection with the improvement projects lie, first, in the fields of design, town planning and construction, he adds.
"Over the next 12 months, we will be looking to recruit more urban designers and urban planners," says Lau. "We are looking for people who are passionate and who want to apply their skills to develop better communities. In return, our planners and designers enjoy a rewarding career with a sense of accomplishment through shaping a better world."
The firm's study of Lau Fau Shan found that it has natural assets such as wetlands, mature mangrove communities, fishponds, habitats for egrets and migratory birds, and a scenic coastline - which have high potential for eco-tourism.
In Sha Tau Kok, Ove Arup engaged with the local community during the planning stage to identify the town's rich heritage and Hakka culture, and then formulated a set of sustainability principles.
This approach is echoed by Christine Loh, CEO of Civic Exchange and adjunct professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's environment division.
"Areas such as Sha Tau Kok and Lau Fau Shan need to be planned and designed appropriately to take care of a range of concerns from the human, environmental, functionality and economic perspectives," she says. "It is no longer sufficient to talk in terms of costing, because the desired outcomes are often design-related, not necessarily cost-related."
Loh says that urban planning offers a wealth of job opportunities at present. "As Hong Kong attempts to improve the liveability of the city, there will be many public and private projects where a wider range of talent is needed, especially multi-disciplined approaches," she says. "Hong Kong needs more local professionals, as well as tapping into the experience of people from the mainland and from overseas."
Arup's Lau is similarly positive about employment prospects in the planning field. "Over the past year, we have seen an increase in opportunities in Hong Kong and the mainland, and our team has continued to grow to meet demand."