Special Report – Housing? Give us green space

Residents want more green spaces, and no wonder: the total area of this kind of space in Macau declined from 128.98 ha in 2010 to 93.47 ha in 2015

Macau Business | September 2022 | Special Report | Housing: A place to call home

One of the surprises the Government had in store, when it presented its proposal for a Master Plan for the urbanization of Macau last year, was the possibility of creating a housing area in Alto de Coloane.

The government’s idea was simple: with so much housing needed and so little space available, Coloane could represent a viable solution, allowing people who work in Cotai to have a home in the area.

However, the public consultation saw almost two hundred opinions lodged against the idea, so many that the Chief Executive abandoned the project, and the green area remains.

This case illustrates the increase in environmental awareness on the part of the population of Macau, even when it is they who must bear the consequent lack of housing.

And this was not the only sign of such sentiment: public opinion also opposed the construction of government facilities on land fills C and D, by Nam Van Lake.

“In general, society does not agree with the construction of government facilities in this area and considers it should be designated a green area or one intended for open public spaces and cultural and recreational facilities”, according to the document issued after the public consultation. The dissenting opinions that were presented focused mainly on the “waste” that such construction represents in an area where the location and landscape “are excellent”.

The Government countered that “it is necessary to make the most of the land and build the essential facilities for urban development,” alleging scarcity of land and insufficient collective facilities. However, the spokesperson explained that the proportions of land intended for construction and for green areas will be set out clearly in the detailed plans.

A group of scientists from outside Macau studied all the accessibility changes affecting urban green spaces (UGSs) from 2010 to 2015 in a high-density city (Macau, of course) and concluded for example that the number of civic parks had remained constant in those five years but that their total area had declined slightly “because municipal road construction cut into a small area along the boundary of the Areia Preta Civic Park on the city’s north-eastern fringe. It is expected that access to civic parks decreased during the study period, because the total area size decreased while the population increased,” they state.

Gardens and courtyards were also analysed in the study: these bottom-tier UGSs accounted for a total area of 60.18 ha and 26.23 ha, respectively, in 2010, dropping sharply to 34.57 ha and 8.41 ha in 2015.

“Although their total area shrank, their total number increased. One reason for the area reduction is that some of these bottom-tier UGSs were upgraded to community parks,” the authors state. But another reason is that “some of the relatively large bottom-tier UGSs disappeared, particularly those in easements where road and building construction converted area belonging to original open spaces.”

Still, the number of bottom-tier UGSs increased, mainly because of the policy to construct micro-scale UGSs such as green roofs, green walls and planted traffic islands.

It was only in the category of community parks that both total area and total number increased, due mainly to the aforementioned policy that upgraded some of the bottom-tier UGSs (gardens and courtyards) to the status of community parks. About 90 percent of the 7.96-ha expansion in community parks was due to those upgrades.

“In general, society does not agree with the construction of government facilities in this area [land fills C and D, by Nam Van Lake] and considers it should be designated a green area or one intended for open public spaces and cultural and recreational facilities” – Government

“It is expected that the changes in community parks will enhance the quality of community parks and hence their attraction,” the authors wrote.

“The combined area of UGSs in Macau declined from 128.98 ha in 2010 to 93.47 ha in 2015. The average area of UGS per capita decreased from 2.75 m2 in 2010 to 1.89 m2 in 2015,” according to the authors, whose paper is titled Urban green space accessibility changes in a high-density city: A case study of Macau from 2010 to 2015 (published in 2017).

What to do with vacant space

“Rapid urban renewal and development result in the problem of vacant lands. Especially in Macau: its population density is too high, its land resources are tight, and there is almost no space for the development of urban landscape,” Haiyu Li, of the City University of Macau’s Institute of Creative Design, explains. Dr Li took Macau as an example for a study of “the landscaping of vacant space at home and abroad”, proposing “a temporary landscape design with low investment and high efficiency, so as to ensure that these vacant spaces radiate new vitality, enhance social value, realize the maximum utilization of resources and bring new opportunities for the construction and development of a high-density urban environment.”

The Macau-based scholar adds, “There are still a number of vacant spaces that have not been developed and were eventually wasted due to various reasons, affecting the overall image of the city and the health of the residents. Facing the dilemma of shortage of land resources, can the landscaping of vacant space provide a new direction for the development of urban greening?”

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