Macau Matters | Yet another urban planning mess

Richard Whitfield

The Macau government recently announced that it will develop 2,000 public housing apartments on a waterfront lot near the Pousada Marina Infante Hotel in Taipa. I believe that this decision is very misguided and reflects the very poor urban planning mentality in Macau.

In earlier articles in 2012, and again in 2013, I pointed out that the rest of the world moved on from building ghettos for poor people many years ago, but this mentality seems to be alive and well in Macau (and in Hong Kong, for that matter). Isolating the poor into low quality housing has proven to be disastrous – leading to poor self-esteem and increased mental and physical health problems, crime and gang problems and a rapid deterioration in the facilities due to poor maintenance. It has also contributed to disasters like the recent Grenfell Tower fire in London in which 71 people died.

Most advanced countries stopped building and began demolishing their poor people ghettos years ago. World’s best practice is now to disperse poor people into the general community housing stock using government rent and home purchase subsidies. This much better approach lifts people out of poverty, gives them a sense of pride and reduces their concentration to minimize criminal and gang behavior.

The decision to use the proposed lot for residential housing, given that it is in the middle of an entertainment precinct, can also be questioned. I suspect that a well done shopping, entertainment and hotel complex would be a better alternative to complement the existing hotels and shopping venues in the area. Even a mixed use space that combines residential with commercial activities could be good – something along similar lines to the excellent Darling Harbor waterfront precinct in Sydney seems a suitable use for the area to me.

To me, one of the goals of good urban planning is to maximize the realized potential of different urban areas. Most places have very limited waterfront spaces and as a consequence they are highly valued for mixed entertainment, commercial and residential activities and this is not realized by turning them into public housing ghettos. Seac Pai Van and other public housing in Macau has been strongly criticized for its very poor design and low construction quality, and rightly so. The design of the complex is very unimaginative, the apartments are very small and poorly laid out and the outdoor areas are concrete wastelands.

To me, a much, much better approach would be to build something like a Darling Harbor that incorporates reasonable residential apartments and then keep a random selection of the apartments for public housing and sell the other apartments to the general population and use the revenue to buy random apartments scattered throughout Macau to also be public housing. This approach would minimize the community cost to provide public housing, give all socio-economic strata access to good quality housing and disperse poor people throughout Macau to maximize their self-esteem and minimize drug, gang and other problems.

I seem to spend half my life asking when we in Macau will get the high quality, innovative public servants that we pay for – again, and again, our current very well paid government “experts” show that they are not, in fact, experts. To repeat myself, we deserve better.

Categories Opinion