Kelly Mai, Executive Director of ULI GBA, on Principles for a Sustainable Approach to New Development

Kelly Mai is Executive Director at Urban Land Institute (ULI) Greater Bay Area and has a passion for creating better and more liveable spaces for communities. She was Co-chair of the ULI Hong Kong Young Leaders group. Kelly has a Master’s degree in Creative Industries from University of Arts London, and a postgraduate diploma in International Real Estate Development and Investment from the Royal Agriculture University. She joined a boutique design firm HEAD Architecture in 2013 and Woods Bagot in 2018, overseeing multiple projects including developments in China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia.

Please share your views on the current developments in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s high-density urban environment, characterised by its unique geography, its world-famous harbour and the compact nature of its development, creates distinct neighbourhoods, offering community benefits through the concentration of local activities, viable mixed land uses and efficient public transport.

Over the past few decades, land development projects have grown ever larger in scale and have resulted in the podium-type building typology. These commercially successful large-scale developments are typically connected at upper levels with a convenient footbridge network and offer efficient linkages to mass transit, but often resulting in a less vibrant street life.

In recent years, large-scale developments have increased the size of their footprints in a high-density, high-rise, mixed-use developments, housing thousands of people within one city block. An alternative approach to large-scale development will strengthen Hong Kong’s unique identity as a vibrant high-density city. Integrated land use developments will contribute to the surrounding urban districts by embracing an urban grid providing synergistic uses. This will encourage a sensitive approach to land use planning in Hong Kong, resulting in adding greater value to the city.

Formerly Hong Kong’s Central Police Station compound, Tai Kwun, is now a centre for heritage and arts; Image by cozyta/Shutterstock

What are the principles to integrate large-scale development into creating a more liveable and sustainable city?
Well-planned mixed-used developments are critical for the local communities to grow sustainably. As a part of the Greater Bay Area (GBA), the question of how to integrate the region development into the GBA development in the coming years has become an increasing concern.

According to ULI’s research, there are 10 principles for a sustainable approach to creating integrated large-scale developments for a more liveable Hong Kong:

  1. Rethink the strategic vision and policy framework
  2. Adopt a placemaking approach
  3. Develop to an appropriate scale and density
  4. Provide accessible public open space
  5. Ensure transport and infrastructure integration
  6. Enhance street-level interface and continuity
  7. Facilitate good urban design and flexible zoning
  8. Go beyond sustainable building design
  9. Enable upfront public engagement
  10. Implement coordinated management control

How does urban transportation play a role in a large-scale development and how does it shape the quality of community and environment in Hong Kong?
Urban transportation systems are a foundation and essential element for a mixed-use development, especially in a new area/new centre. Well-developed public transportation can encourage more people to live in a sustainable way and contribute to decarbonisation goals.

Urban transportation can enable people’s access to liveable, affordable and sustainable communities in the new areas away from the central business district. Using public transportation can also create multi-centres to utilise places in Hong Kong that are not yet fully developed.

ULI supported event about Waterfront development with Guangzhou Government and State Own Enterprise

Hong Kong needs an integrated, strategic city vision, a clear policy framework, and a proactive approach to guide its future development. Isolated and piecemeal development can be avoided through districtwide visions developed through a bottom-up approach engaging the community.

As a leading independent, non-profit research and educational organisation, what are ULI’s contributions to improve the built environment?
ULI has various product councils that focus on different issues in city development and ecosystems, to gather industry leaders and experts who specialise in these areas to discuss essential issues for upcoming developments. We also have the Advisory Services Panel or Technical Assistant Panel to help solve specific questions for a specific region/project, as we can leverage our global members’ network and knowledge to solve their problems.

Additionally, ULI also runs the Urban Plan Initiative, an educational programme for young leaders and students to learn the fundamental forces affecting urban development, real estate development, land use and more. The programme seeks to transform how they understand the built environment and how market forces interact and sometimes clash with non-market forces. Through this, we find that the participants gain much understanding of the factors that drive change that have to be made to create a high-quality urban environment. It is very beneficial to advance the cause of responsible leadership in the use of land.

We also focus on sustainability/ESG, technology and innovation to develop a better community. Currently, we are also about to kick off a net zero imperative programme in the Greater Bay Area & Beijing as part of a global research effort.

This is an excerpt. The original article is published in Construction+ Hong Kong Issue 25: Low-Carbon Urban Development. Get the print magazine or subscribe to the digital edition to read the complete article.

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