By Annie Chen, Board Director of Civic Exchange and Chair of RS Group, Joan Shang, Senior Associate of RS Group
As Hong Kong maintains multiple days of zero new coronavirus cases, the cloud of COVID-19 seems to be blowing away, for now at least. But before we dive back into “normal life”, we should look back on the past weeks and consider the lessons regarding what living “well” means in Hong Kong.
In 2016, Civic Exchange released the Wellbeing Index, a public opinion survey designed to measure public attitudes and satisfaction with 10 different policy domains, including housing, medical care, education, work and business opportunities, environmental protection, among others. The 2016 report shows that out of 10 wellbeing issues, Hong Kongers are most dissatisfied with housing—in terms of size, affordability and availability.
These inadequacies have become even more obvious during this period of self-quarantine and “work from home”, with the lack of space straining both personal mental health and familial relationships.
Then, there are those not lucky enough to have a flat to themselves and where physical health is threatened by living situations. These include residents of dense sub-divided housing who are unable to social distance and “McRefugees” who lost their “beds” for the night when for a fortnight in April McDonalds closed their 24-hour outlets from 6 PM to 4 AM in response to the virus.
At the same time, the Wellbeing Index reflected that Hong Kongers are also concerned about our natural environment. It was clear that there is no desire to sacrifice our natural environment, our open spaces, for housing construction.
Indeed, judging from the crowds packing country parks trails and beaches in recent weeks, it is clear nature has been a source of much needed respite for Hong Kong in these challenging times.
Given the paltry public open space of 2m2/person available in Hong Kong (compared to New York’s 26m2/person and London’s 31m2/person), our country parks and nature are indispensable to wellbeing in our city. Yet, these free public resources have been taken for granted and are threatened by “development”.
In this post-COVID19 world, Hong Kong should rethink our development and housing policies, and look for options to provide housing without jeopardizing our natural resources. This was shown clearly in the Wellbeing study and borne out in our new reality.
In addition to residential density, another risk factor to our wellbeing in this pandemic has been the density of our public transport system.
While Hong Kong enjoys one of the world’s most efficient and affordable public transport systems, rush hour traffic frequently makes us feel more sardine than human. Not only does this pose public health risks in times of epidemic, but it also impacts our wellbeing during “normal” times, leaving us susceptible to communicable diseases such as the flu.
This is, therefore, a good time, post-COVID19, to consider adopting smarter urban planning to diversify the flow of commuters and allow for alternative commuting methods such as biking and walking.
With the experience of “Work From Home” fresh in our minds, this is also a good time to take a further step back and consider whether it is possible to work without commuting (especially flying), and with more flexibility.
Ultimately, the virus has forced us to rethink what “living well” means in Hong Kong. Over the past few months it was not our ubiquitous malls and chain stores, but our under-appreciated country parks and beaches that have provided relief and escape.
We have seen that, in the end, fresh food and toilet paper are more essential to our wellbeing than the latest fashion and newest gadgets. We hope our city can use these lessons to help transition us to more balanced, carbon-neutral lifestyles—and truly living well.
當我們對「在家辦公」的經歷記憶猶新的時候，這也是一個很好的時機讓我們再退一步考慮，是否可以不用通勤 (尤其是坐飛機) 並更靈活地處理日常工作。