OPINION – The scourge of construction

Macau Business | February 2022

Keith Morrison – Author and educationist

Several years ago the host of an American talk show commented that “it’s the 153rd birthday of Central Park [New York]. Central Park, yeah, 800 acres of unspoiled beauty, or as Donald Trump calls it, a waste”. It is prime building land. Just think of the money that could be made by building on it. The same could be said of Macau, where the urge to build on every inch of space seems to be unstoppable. The latest figures show that the average price per square metre of usable area of residential units was 104,000 patacas. No wonder people want to build residential accommodation in Macau – the return on investment is colossal. The rich get richer.

Macau’s obsession with building doesn’t stop there. Infrastructure development is everywhere. Wherever you look there are cranes, hoardings to board up building sites, machines of monstrous sizes scattered liberally all over, mile after mile of road diversions, and digging as the meaning of life. In other words, a total mess.

Not content with ground-level construction or having filled up every available ground space, we now look skywards and to reclaimed land, to high-rise walkways and new roads. Have you tried the hideous high-level walkway in the Avenida de Guimarães in Taipa, a clear winner of the walkway eyesore prize of the year? Have you tried deciding which of the multiple road diversions you are going to take to get to Coloane: the winner of the prize for the territory’s most confusing road layout? Have you seen the high level, curved road taking shape at the roundabout on the Avenida da Ponte da Amizade in Macau; a contender for the prize for ugly sky-invading steel-and-concrete construction? Have you taken the Avenida do Aeroporto in Cotai, which goes past the largest tract of piled-up bits of construction equipment and debris, and which has the distinction of being the greatest area of spoiled reclaimed land in Macau, whose only redeeming feature is its clear view of the new prison? Have you seen the encroachment of buildings onto what had been areas of woodland in Coloane?

Macau’s population density, at 21,000 people per square kilometre on the latest figures, puts it top of the world’s density list. Concrete is everywhere. People need accommodation. Perhaps we should not be surprised at all the building: Macau’s population has risen by 23 per cent in the last decade, and 59 per cent since the handover. Whilst this might be attractive to policy makers and those with money to invest in property, it has created a living, oppressive nightmare for many.

People need what Macau lacks: the sense of liberation which comes from being in open spaces, fresh air space, blue-sky space. But building, building, building seems to be the name of the game. Forget about open spaces, it’s life-sized, real-world Lego construction that counts. We used to be able to have a breath of fresh air on Coloane, a few moments of peace and quiet outdoors, and a pleasant relaxing drive around the island, supposedly Macau’s protected green belt. But have you been there recently? Apart from the nightmare of road works all over Coloane, it seems as though it has become the largest open-air car park in the territory, with cars nose to tail and parked in every available space. Its construction work has despoiled the entire landscape and there are people everywhere, understandably seeking a break from the city. So much for environmental protection in tiny Macau’s 33 square kilometres.

We were warned that road works would increase by 21 per cent year-on-year in 2021. As if that were not sufficiently horrible, we have been warned that, for 2022, there will be an increase of 11 per cent in construction work when compared to the previous year, impacting on main traffic routes. Whilst one cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs, is there really to be no end in sight for Macau’s building? Remember that humans have to live in this omnipresent disaster zone, and have done for more than the two decades since the handover to China.

Forget outdoor solitude, silence and peacefulness; forget a quiet walk in nature; forget places with no buildings in sight; forget a lonely walk in the woods or by the seashore; forget the beauty of an unbroken line of trees or the swaying of colourful flowers in a breeze. Get out of Macau and go to another country if you want these. In the name of development, Macau is starving its citizens of these human essentials. Stop building monstrosities.