Another important border, this time to the north of the Shenzhen River, was the city border of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (SEZ) usually called “Erxianguan”, established in 1980 to kickstart market economics within the ideals of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’. The SEZ border had strong similarities with the FCA, reflecting the fences, guards, checkpoints and ports of entry, along with requirements for Entry Permits. Officially abolished in 2010 the boundary land is currently under a period of repurposing with the roadblocks and most checkpoints having been removed. Whilst parts of the border located on mountainside have already been transformed, renewal for much of the larger sites is ongoing and aims to adapt them to a linear ‘urban greenway’ for connected recreation.
HK-SZ Border alignments 1989, including FCA and‘Erxianguan ( Image: BWPI )
So, the border relationship between Hong Kong and China has never been set in stone and unlikely ever will be. With the continued need for accommodating burgeoning populations on both sides, combined with regional integration and technological monitoring advancements, it seems foreseeable that continued manipulations of the Hong Kong – Shenzhen border are inevitable. How then can communities and facilities on both sides be integrated? Where is the long-term vision on how to prepare for such scenarios? How could many of Hong Kong’s issues related to cross border migration and housing shortage be pro-actively addressed?
Luohu development across the Shenzhen river as viewed from Nga Yiu Fort in Hong Kong ( Image: BWPI )
Muk Wu Village, was part of Frontier Closed Area before 2016 ( Image: BWPI )
Currently, the level of urban development forms a stunning contrast across the two sides of the Shenzhen River. Development has been tightly controlled within the Hong Kong FCA for the last 70 years, leading to the formation of a natural habitat for flora and fauna including extensive conservation areas and sites of special scientific interest. This compares with 40 years of intense development within the SEZ boundary, right up to the border fence. As such when we stand back and look at the urban metropolis that is both Hong Kong and Shenzhen as one, it is immediately apparent that there is currently a huge green and rural space at the very heart of a dense city agglomeration, broken by only by a few transport corridors and market towns.
THE BIRTH OF URBAN PARKS
Central Park itself is the most expensive real-estate in New York City（Image: Carol M. Highsmith)
The Lee River corridor as an urban green lung (Image: BWPI)
The world’s most renowned urban parks, London's Great Parks, Munich's Englischer Garten and New York’s Central Park for example, all started out life being developed outside the urban area and were only much later enveloped. The land for Central Park had to be cleared in 1850 of its long-term farmers, (Gilligan, 2017), whilst a 1789 decree creating military gardens for soldiers to develop good agricultural knowledge saw the origins of the Englischer Garden (Dombart, 1972). Hyde Park, the largest of the chain of London’s Royal Parks was established by King Henry VIII way back in 1536 when he took the land to use it as hunting grounds.
Today, real estate on the periphery of all these parks has become the most expensive in the world, whilst the land price of the parks themselves can be considered priceless (New York Daily News, 2010).
London’s largest urban park is however Lee Valley Regional Park, winding from the distant northern suburbs to the heart of the City. Extensively criss-crossed by roads and railways it was planned as a legacy of the Olympic Games, created by a visionary and unique Act of Parliament to be a “green lung” for London, Essex and Hertfordshire. It is made up of a diverse mix of countryside areas, urban green spaces, heritage sites, country parks, nature reserves and lakes and riverside trails, as well as leading sports centres covering an area of over 10,000 acres (40 km2). (Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, 2018). Most importantly the park has acted as the green infrastructure needed to shape surrounding and ongoing urban renewal and stands as a classic example of conservation lead development within a public-private partnership model. It’s now well accepted that there is a significant link between the value of real estate and its proximity to parks, greenbelts and other green spaces.
LANDSCAPE AS LAND SHAPER
It can be argued that the under-development that has resulted in the natural landscape of the New Territories FCA, together with adjacent hills and flood land, has somewhat unwittingly now come itself to form the unique and iconic “green lung” at the centre of the mega-urban, twin-city development that is Hong Kong-Shenzhen. With formative and judicious land management, the right development in the right place, together with planning at cross border horizons, the area could form the focus of a 21st Century vision for high quality, high value, sustainable development.
The potential opportunities for green/blue infrastructure, to proactively shape other infrastructure development and housing provision through regional and cross border landscape planning are manifest, where the approach of biodiversity conservation in particular, must go beyond administrative borders and be holistic in accommodating conservation along with sustainable development.
REDRAW THE BORDER
Goals for both Hong Kong and Shenzhen seem aligned in the mid-term. Shenzhen has already achieved its intent of developing a modern, international, innovative city by 2020, and strives to become a ‘global innovation-leading city with greater international influence’ by the middle of the century. (Shenzhen Municipal E-government Resources Center, 2018). Whereas Hong Kong’s 2030+ statement holds the vision of “A Smart, Green and Resilient City” (Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, 2016).
As we move into the fourth industrial revolution and think about development with a focus on wellness, sustainability and the protection of valuable resources it would appear that such smart development has its place most likely in the New Territories. The old centres of Tuen Mun, Yuen Long, and Fanling together with new developments at Hung Shui Kiu, Tin Shui Wai, and perhaps Lau Fau Shan, currently considered far from the urban centre, are in future positioned to be the most desirable real estate locations, immersed in the central green lung of the twin-city, and with easy connection to existing urban centres as well as having land more easily adaptable to liveable city development programmes than the traditional cores.