Thursday, February 07, 2013

The More the Messier

says today's South China Morning Post.  Singapore wants (or at least its government does) to increase its population to 6.9 million by 2030, a move which would see non-citizens making up 45% of its population.  So should we also plan to eliminate every bit of green from our landscape?  As if we didn't already have too much overcrowding, air pollution, traffic congestion, and all the other ills of overpopulation.  As if we didn't already have the world's least affordable homes.

Officially we now have over 7 million people, though the government recently admitted it cannot be sure of the details.  (Indeed, the revelation that some census officers made up figures rather than conducting interviews makes the total rather doubtful as well.)  The previous Chief Executive Donald Tsang talked about planning for a population of 10 million by 2030.  So just imagine 40% more traffic fumes, 40% more pople crowding the streets of Moingkok, 40% more people on Repulse Bay beach on a hot summer Sunday, 40% more people trying to squeeze on to the MTR and buses in the morning rush hour, 40% more cars driving around in circles looking for somewhere to park...

In a city that is already having difficulty finding sufficient land for its current housing needs, how are we ever going to find space for 40% more homes, schools, universities, shops, markets, restaurants, hospitals, clinics, sports fields, swimming pools, libraries, police stations, fire stations, sewage treatment plants, cinemas, theatres, pubs and bars, parks, car parks, and all the other things that make up the social infrastructure?  Not to mention the businesses to employ all these extra people.

When we are already running out of landfill space, where are we going to dump 40% more rubbish?  And what will 40% more sewage do to our water quality?  And with China's own needs growing and its pollution worsening, can we be sure that the mainland will continue to be able to supply us with adequate clean water for so many additional people?

Do we have docking space for 40% more ferries, and 40% more ships bringing in the necessities we import?  The questions go on and on.  And these projections don't even take into account the demands created by our expanding number of tourists - 42 million in 2011, and probably even more in 2012.

It should be clear to any sane person who knows Hong Kong that talking about 10 million as a desirable - or even feasible - population figure is utterly crazy.  Yes, we have to meet the needs of an ageing population and we obviously need to import some skills that benefit our economy, but we should be taking advantage of our low birth rate to keep population growth as low as possible.  Indeed, I would argue that Hong Kong's optimum population should be about 5 million - large enough to support the amenities of a modern city but leaving enough space for a civilised quality of life.  If we grow to 10 million, I fear for our future.

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