Year after year, Hong Kong SAR has topped the rankings for the world’s least affordable housing markets. The city’s sky-high property prices have pushed residents into tiny living spaces, including the notorious subdivided apartments known as “coffin homes”.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the future of cities?

Cities represent humanity's greatest achievements - and greatest challenges. From inequality to air pollution, poorly designed cities are feeling the strain as 68% of humanity is predicted to live in urban areas by 2050.

The World Economic Forum supports a number of projects designed to make cities cleaner, greener and more inclusive.

These include hosting the Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization, which gathers bright ideas from around the world to inspire city leaders, and running the Future of Urban Development and Services initiative. The latter focuses on how themes such as the circular economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be harnessed to create better cities. To shed light on the housing crisis, the Forum has produced the report Making Affordable Housing a Reality in Cities.

To ease the chronic housing crisis, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government has pitched a plan to increase the supply of land through the building of artificial islands.

The reclamation of 1,000 hectares off Lantau, the city’s largest island and home to Hong Kong International Airport, will be one of the largest projects of its kind – the new islands would cover an area almost twice the size of Dubai’s 560-hectare Palm Jumeirah.

 Priced out of a home.
Priced out of a home.
Image: Statista

400,000 homes

Building works are scheduled to begin in 2025 with the first residents moving in by 2032, the South China Morning Post reported.

The scheme, called the Lantau Tomorrow Vision, aims to house up to 1.1 million more people by building between 260,000 and 400,000 apartments, 70% of which will be reserved for public housing. It also includes a transport network to link the artificial islands to Lantau and other parts of the city.

At an estimated cost of US$80 billion, it will be Hong Kong’s most expensive infrastructure project to date. The government, led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, announced the expansion last year, but recently revealed details of the proposed budget to address public concern over its impact on the city’s coffers, according to the South China Morning Post.

Conservation fund

There are also concerns about environmental disruption and potential harm to species, particularly a local population of endangered pink dolphins. Hong Kong’s government has said it will set up a US$127 million Lantau Conservation Fund to compensate for habitat loss as a result of the building work.

It also said the islands will be designed to withstand sea-level rise and stronger typhoons due to climate change.

Hong Kong SAR has been reclaiming land from the sea for more than 150 years. Hong Kong International Airport was built in the 1990s on an artificial island and is now expanding to include a third runway. And the newly opened Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, the world’s longest sea bridge, has a 6.7 km tunnel between artificial islands to allow shipping to pass.