I think it is important to take time and reflect about my time in Hong Kong. One of the best ways to reflect is by comparing similarities and differences between the US and Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s urban development is significantly more advanced than urban development in the US. When I first arrived in Hong Kong, I expected that its environmental structure would lag behind the environmental structure in the US. I suffered under this illusion for something like a month. One morning on the way to work, while lost in thought, it suddenly occurred to me that I have never experienced better environmental structures than those developed in Hong Kong. This development includes clustered housing with “quality of life” amenities, superior transportation systems, and retention of extraordinary amounts of open space.
Housing is quite often clustered. An excellent example is Shatin. There are hundreds of high rise buildings designed as relatively small living spaces. The results are staggering. For example, on as much land as I grew up on in Cave Creek, there might be two or three forty story buildings. If you figure that there are 12 apartments per floor, and that (conservatively) 2.5 people occupy each apartment, that means there are 30 people per floor, 1200 people per building, 3600 people living in the space I grew up on (and shared with four others)! That population density could certainly spell disaster without appropriate infrastructure. However, infrastructure includes many opportunities for exercise. Tennis courts, swimming pools, gyms and areas for walking are quite common. The result is tolerable. There can be many noisy distractions, and a feeling of loss of privacy, but overall, it works. In the US, on the other hand, infrastructure is incredibly spread out, the result of intentional reliance on the automobile for getting from Point A to Point B. It is very disheartening to see the effects of the US’ untoward reliance on the automobile. The sense of “people space” is overrun with the presence of parking lots, divided highways, highway noise, etc. We have devoted our urban planning to accommodating automobiles rather than accommodating people. Although urban planning in Hong Kong puts many people in close proximity, it promotes a feeling of placing people first, whereas in the US, cars are seemingly more important than people.
This concentration of population leads to positive additional development. There is no way that all of those people living in such a small space could all possess cars. Therefore, public transportation abounds. There are taxis, trains, mini-buses, and regular buses running all the time to get people where they need to be. This ability to rely on public transportation is something that I have never been able to do before. I loved it. It created a sense of independence, without owning a car, that I never felt while living in the US. The US, on the other hand, is heading for a disaster unless it dramatically improves its infrastructure and urban planning. People’s feeling of disconnection will continue to worsen as urban infrastructure reveals its focus on automobile use instead of on human use.
Despite the incredible number of people living in Hong Kong, there is an incredible amount of open space. This is the result of solid urban planning, superior transportation, and a commitment to preservation of open space. It may also be due to the presnce of incredible mountains in much of Hong Kong as well. These mountains make construction difficult, but not impossible. For a location of its size, with as many people as live in Hong Kong, there is an incredible amount of open space. Again, I would say that the US has much to learn from Hong Kong about preservation of open space.
For these three reasons, Hong Kong is a desirable place to live. I certainly enjoyed my time there and will remember it. There were some negative aspects that I will also remember. Occasionally, I would feel like Hong Kong has created a “fake” environment that is so unreal as to be harmful. Escalators, elevators, subway trains taxis, and sidewalks are not “real” at some level, and yet they dominate life in Hong Kong. If one is not intentional about getting off the beaten track, these modern conveniences can feel overwhelming. Nevertheless, I much prefer the lifestyle offered by Hong Kong’s infrastructure to the lifestyle offered by infrastructure in the US. [From Differences Between Hong Kong and the US]