Urbanism Has Global Attraction

Urbanism Has Global Attraction
HONG KONG - A major conference entitled "Vertical Density, the Public Dimension: A Dialogue between Hong Kong - Shanghai - New York" was successfully held last Thursday and Friday in Hong Kong. City officials, planners, architects, and developers from Hong Kong, Shanghai, and New York convened over one and a half days to discuss the balance between urbanism in global cities and how public space and urban planning can be further enhanced.

Organized by The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government and the Shanghai World Expo 2010 Executive Committee and presented by the Hong Kong - New York Urban Planning Exchange, AIA Hong Kong, and The Skyscraper Museum, the conference served as a platform to exchange dialogue on vertical density in three major cities and how they can learn from each of their experiences. In addition to the overall conference dialogue, the January 21 opening session marked the 100-day countdown to the upcoming Shanghai World Expo 2010, a major event in China that celebrates the theme of "Better City, Better Life".

The full day conference on January 21 brought together a large audience of 330 delegates while the half-day on January 22 attracted 190 attendees. Delegates from New York introduced several themes to the dialogue which included the creation and enhancement of public urban space, waterfront access and uses, and the design and management of urban parks, particularly in the context of the utilization of public-private partnerships. Featured speakers from New York included among others, Alexandros Washburn, Chief Urban Designer, New York City Department of City Planning, Ann Buttenwieser, President, The Neptune Foundation and Hilary Ballon, Deputy Vice Chancellor, New York University Abu Dhabi.

On January 21, Alexandros Washburn's presentation demonstrated New York's effort in promoting high standards of urban planning and design through the use of regulatory mechanisms. Examples of public space creation and ongoing maintenance and management from a New York City perspective were presented by Vishaan Chakrabarti, Marc Holliday Professor of Real Estate Development and Director, Real Estate Development Program, Columbia University, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, Preservation (GSAPP). While Carl Weisbrod, President, Trinity Real Estate demonstrated the role that local business can play in bringing about district based improvements including the use of sustainable energy sources on New York streets to create a distinctive neighborhood identity.

On January 22, the conference continued its dialogue with presentations on preserving and promoting a city's character and culture through public space access and landmarks protection. Robert Tierney, Chairman, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission presented an overview of New York City's landmarks and historic districts and explained the Commission's role in protecting not only the cultural characteristics of a city inherent in its buildings but also the city's historic and aesthetic heritage, including the revitalization of old industrial areas and the creation of public space with the help of a publicly empowered authority. James Cavanaugh, President, The Battery Park City Authority, described the corporate structure and evolution of Battery Park City where a series of shipping piers has been transformed into a successful mix of residential and commercial projects, all set in a district with a high percentage of public open space. Charles Maikish, Managing Director of Global Corporate Services and Real Estate, Blackrock and Blackrock/Barclays; Former CEO of World Trade Centre, New York, spoke about the importance of water borne transit and land/water interface in a vertical high rise city.

The New York speakers' presentations on both days were followed by a series of Hong Kong responses. As the New York speakers reiterated throughout the conference their emphasis on streetscapes and a "pedestrians-first" point of view, several of the Hong Kong respondents explained that the fundamental mechanisms of urban planning would need to be rethought in order to realize similar objectives in Hong Kong. Respondent Rocco S.K. Yim, Founder and Executive Director, Rocco Design Architects Limited, encouraged the provision of more public space but explained that there are limitations in Hong Kong. "We need to understand our constraints (in Hong Kong) and we also need to balance our priorities" Mr. Yim said. Hong Kong respondent Keith Kerr, Former Managing Director, Swire Properties Limited; Chairman, Executive Committee, Real Estate Developers' Association, said: "We need to look at the mechanisms in Hong Kong and the financial model that runs it". There was also agreement that public space in privately managed locations was a valuable addition to a city's urban environment but that there should be agreed guidelines on how this might best be achieved.

The conference was jointly chaired by Nicholas Brooke, Chairman, Professional Property Services Group; Chairman, Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation, Paul Katz, President, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates and Carol Willis, Founder and Director, The Skyscraper Museum, New York.

Mr. Brooke commented "The interactive nature of the event afforded the ideal opportunity for the exchange of views and experience and will be very helpful as Hong Kong addresses issues of land use planning and the creation and management of public open space, both of which are the subject of much current public debate."

In the words of Paul Katz, "This second Dialogue afforded an excellent opportunity for New York delegates to better understand the vertical density challenges faced in Hong Kong and Shanghai and to explain how New York has managed to address some of these, given that it is the most mature of the three high rise cities."

Carol Willis, Founder and Director, The Skyscraper Museum, New York, who conceived and organized the first "Vertical Density" two-city dialogue in New York in 2008, observed, "This second dialogue took the facts of Hong Kong and Manhattan's vertical density to the next logical point of discussion, the necessity of a great and gracious public realm.

Margaret Brooke, of the Hong Kong - New York Urban Planning Exchange and lead organizer of the conference summed up by saying "We would like this event to be part of an ongoing dialogue between Hong Kong and New York and other vertical density cities given that much can be learned from the sharing of experiences and an understanding of how challenges can be addressed in differing ways."

Striking a balance amidst the development of a city with the consideration of the public dimension and private interests is an ongoing task that is essential to any successful city. With the success of this conference and the previous one held in New York in 2008, the ongoing exchange on the urban environment of successful cities will surely continue.
Source: Hong Kong - New York Urban Planning Exchange

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