Megalopolis may be one of the preferred or unavoidable urban development models in future. The 2018 Revision of the World Urbanization Prospects published by the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) has forecasted that 68% of the world population would live in cities by 2050. The report further predicts that by 2030, there would be 43 megacities with more than 10 million inhabitants. As the world continues its rapid urbanization, the hyper-density cities appear to be inevitable. However, the hyper-density urbanism model, despite its economical effectiveness and centralised governance efficiency, may have its drawbacks.
In the article, Population Density under Social Pathology, published in Scientific American, the ethologist and behavioural research scientist John Calhoun talks about over-population effects on the breakdown of normal social structure. Calhoun’s whole life was devoted to the scientific study of the behaviours of habitants under over-population condition, and demonstrated that over-population, overcrowding could lead to disruptive violent behaviours.
In my presentation, using Hong Kong as an example, I shall share some observations on the issues of hyper-density living and why we need to be on guard of overcrowding and congestion. Rem Koolhaas’s Delirious New York is about a retroactive manifesto for Manhattan, where Koolhaas sees New York as a stage for the terminal phase of the western capitalistic urbanism. I would suggest that Hong Kong has gone further than New York on that path and has become the ultimate experimental lab of capitalist urbanism — its goal is to achieve business development at all costs with a hyper-density urban model for commercial efficiency and expediency.
As architect and designer, we need to be conscious about the inherent danger of overcrowding and physical congestion in Hong Kong; it is not just the high density because it could be good depending on the supporting infrastructure, but it is the lack of personal space and the perception of overcrowding in public places, where one can never escape the crowds and is constantly under involuntary stress. The perpetual pressure of under constant surveillance and unavoidable ceaseless social interaction become a shared social disaster waiting to happen.
Innovative urbanism is about designing an urban environment that is healthy, liveable and suitable for the whole community to prosper. It is not just about economic efficiency and creating a playground for the elites or technological savvy inhabitants. As architect and custodian of our physical environment, we need to be aware that over congestion and involuntary interaction in people daily lives could lead to an unexpected breakdown of social structure and there is also a danger of us becoming an unintended accomplice to contagious diseases and violent crimes. Innovative urbanism is about social equity and how people can live harmoniously together by putting the humanity back into our 21st century technologically advanced cities.
Vice President (Local Affairs), HKIUD Chief Executive Officer, Chinachem Group