Hong Kong and Singapore: while the Lion roars, the Dragon struggles

Singapore and Hong Kong are facing similar challenges but it seems that the latter faces more struggles as a result of a lack in innovation

A view of Singapore’s central business district. Despite being densely populated, green spaces (left) are not uncommon (Credits: Raphael Blet)

By- Raphael Blet

Oftentimes, Singapore and Hong Kong are compared and commonly regarded as “competing” with one another.

Indeed, the two cities have a lot in common ranging from being former British colonies to Asia’s major ports.

Despite being contextually of similar background, the two cities are of different shape in particular when it comes to innovation.

Housing has been a lifelong challenge for both mainly as a result of their limited land resources.

Subdivided flats (commonly known as “cage homes”) are sadly part of Hong Kong’s social landscape.

Government statistics from 2015 showed that around 200,000 people in Hong Kong lived in 88,800 subdivided flats sizing on average 5.8 square meters.

Meanwhile, public housing might provide Hong Kong’s residents a sanitary place to live, it definitely does not offer them a quality lifestyle.

It is common for property representatives in Hong Kong to justify themselves by pointing out the territory’s lack of land resources, thus giving them a de facto legitimacy to offer low quality flats to the middle class.

According to the UN, Singapore ranks as the world’s third most densely populated territory while Hong Kong is fourth. This naturally means that Singapore faces even more challenges than Hong Kong, in particular when it comes to land resources.

In spite of that, Singapore has been able to overcome these challenges and instead thrived for innovation.

Public housing projects (known in Singapore as HDB’s) such as The Pinnacle@Duxton and Skyville@Dawson are great examples of what public housing is supposed to be in an international city.

A promotional video giving a glimpse of what it is to live in one of Singapore’s new public housing estates. (Credits: Wohaarchitects)

Singapore was acclaimed numerous times for this achievement, thanks to the government’s commitment in improving the lives of its citizens.

When it comes to homeownership rate, Singapore ranks as the world’s second highest territory (90 per cent) while Hong Kong is second lowest (51 per cent). In other words, around half of Hong Kong’s population never owned a space.

One might argue that ownership isn’t key to financial stability, all citizens in Hong Kong should be able to own public housing flats.

In spite of its limited land resources, Singapore (or the Garden City) is able to maintain a balance between new developments and its core environmental resources while Hong Kong struggles between controversial ideas such as using country parks.

It’s as simple as that: Hong Kong doesn’t lack of land resources, it simply doesn’t know how to make proper use of it, simply have a look at the empty tech parks. Talks calling-on building another one in Lok Ma Chau are now on the way… Isn’t it pure irony?

While Singapore has been able to become a technological hub (Interpol Global Complex, the upcoming Google Data Centre and the trial of automatic vehicles being great examples), Hong Kong’s last major technological innovation — the Octopus card — has now 20 years!

The same logic could apply for Hong Kong’s taxi sector which hasn’t so far been able to offer customers a single booking platform whence Singapore achieved this since more than 10 years.

Hong Kong should take Singapore as a model, this implies that the government should consider the needs of its citizens and gain more control over public utilities, housing being the primary one.

Only by doing so will Hong Kong be able to retain its position as Asia’s world.

It might be time for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive to think about this.