Aerial photo taken on June 15, 2020 shows a view of Macao Peninsula in south China. (Xinhua/Cheong Kam Ka)

Strengths and weaknesses

The long-awaited draft for the Urban Master Plan is finally out and under consultation. Architects and experts have had their say on the strengths and weaknesses of the blueprint, which will guide the city’s development in the coming two decades. Some praise it as “a good first step”, while others criticise it for being “too vague”.  

By Catarina Pereira and Rima Cui 

Local architects hold mixed views on the government-drafted new Urban Master Plan, which is available for public consultation until November 2. Speaking to Jornal Tribuna de Macau (JTM), Nuno Soares, Francisco Ricarte, and Francisco Vizeu Pinheiro point out the pros and cons of the draft for the Master Plan, while Miguel Campina is more critical of it.  

Wong Seng Fat from the Traffic Services Committee speaks highly of the plan, namely with regards to the solutions for the city’s transportation bottleneck. 

Architect Nuno Soares has been stressing the urgency for a master urban plan over the past 15 years. He says that the plan can either be a simple administrative tool or a real strategic blueprint. “After studying the plan, I believe it is clearly a strategic plan which will be implemented. It has ambition and sufficient tools to organize Macau’s future urban development”, Mr Soares says. Moreover, he points out that Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng is committed to implementing the plan. “It is a change in the paradigm”, he believes, while acknowledging that there is room for improvement. 

Nuno Soares says that the Master Plan “is a macro scale document that, in order to produce good results, needs the related 18 detailed district urban plans which will be developed later”. The architect starts by highlighting some new aspects: “For the first time ever, it includes new land reclamations and the existing urban areas. In other words, they are not separately considered, as hitherto”. In addition, he recalls that there was a connection problem between New Area Zone A (land reclamation) and the city: “It’s one of the biggest differences and it’s a good start, even if we still need more details”. 

On the other hand, the architect also points out the weaknesses of the plan. Firstly, it deals with a single scenario: a Macau SAR with 808.000 inhabitants by 2040. “For a 20-year-long Master Plan, it’s important to consider several scenarios, because the city may reach 800 thousand residents or one million residents. Many things will happen and it’s essential to contemplate maximum and minimum scenarios”, in order for the plan itself to be “re-evaluated” as time goes by. Other architects, such as Miguel Campina and Francisco Vizeu Pinheiro, also believe that the official figures are conservative. 

Wong Seng Fat, vice-president of the Traffic Services Committee, has a more optimistic view of the draft for the Urban Master Plan: “Macau has been divided into 18 zones. I feel it’s a very important step, because that division will help with transportation planning. Street planning can be carried out scientifically, according to the estimated number of people living in each zone”. 

Not only that, he also notes that the Iao Hon, Areia Preta, and Horta e Costa areas are in need of urban renewal: “We never knew if they would be targeted for urban renovation or not, or if any works would be happening around those areas, but now, with the Master Plan, we have a precise guideline and that helps a lot. These areas are in bad shape and they should be targeted for replenishment urgently”. He adds that it’s the only way the LTR can reach the inner city.  

Regarding the land reclamations, Wong Seng Fat has spoken highly of what is mentioned in the draft of the Master Plan: “The government has a construction plan for new housing, but even if the houses are built on time, we must not forget the leisure side of the city, in order for Macau to become a world Centre of Tourism and Leisure”. Thus, he feels that the city needs more space for residents and tourists. He also points out that, as plan forecasts a population of around 808 thousand people, if the city’s urban area were not expanded then Macau would be under tremendous pressure to cope with a 200-thousand population increase.  

Wong is also of the opinion that “the Master Plan must establish the guidelines for the gradual widening of streets and assorted areas, in order for the LTR to reach the heart of the peninsula”. Finally, he feels that “it’s important to clearly define a plan of common channels in Zone A of the new land reclamations, in order to prevent excavation and transportation problems from affecting Zone A”. 

Architect Francisco Ricarte underlines that the plan seeks to structure the new land reclamation areas, but he believes the plan could have gone further: “For example, when it comes to ecologic green corridors, waterfront protection zones, and scenic protection zones. I see no reason why these kinds of protection zones are not included in what is planned for the new land reclamations. I only see some intention to include a few points of scenic protection, but from certain points and not certain fronts”. 

The architect also says that there is a need to “be more careful when considering issues such as culture, heritage, and the Historic Centre”. 

“I think that we can’t just discuss urban renewal in this context alone. We must also talk about urban rehabilitation. When we want to safeguard the Historic Centre and other heritage areas, we must talk about urban rehabilitation”. Mr. Ricarte says “the plan should go further in this particular aspect and it has the potential to do that”. 

Another architect, Miguel Campina, is more critical of the draft for the Urban Master Plan. Mr. Campina says that the document under consultation falls short of expectations in many ways: “I thought the Master Plan would not end up being a menu of generalities, but a more detailed and concrete formulation of aspects that deal with urban occupation policy, especially when it comes to the definition of land occupation and usage levels, as well as building height. Everything is vague in the plan, because it says that whatever is already defined, stays as it is. Well, one of the problems is that there are different opinions about height limits”. 

“I thought the Master Plan would not end up being a ‘menu of generalities’, but a more detailed and concrete formulation of aspects, especially when it comes to the definition of land occupation and usage levels, as well as building height limits. Everything is vague in the plan.”  Miguel Campina, architect  

The architect goes even further: “We can’t understand how it took so long to get here, when this plan is nothing more than the sum of a few years of good intentions, which should have and could have been done years ago. The reason why it didn’t happen is because a more rigorous approach would hurt individual interests, as irrefutable evidence proves”. He feels that “expectations are very high and it’s natural to want a higher level of definition and detail”, adding that the draft for the Master Plan is flawed, “because once again we have the same declarations of principle and generic guidelines”. 

As an example, Campina points to his many doubts about handling old zones and neighbourhoods: “We have been talking about this for a long time. What is at stake is quite complicated, and what does the Plan say about it? Nothing. Just generalities. Nothing detailed”, he says. 

Perspectives on the Inner Harbour 

Looking at the plan to create commercial areas in the Venceslau de Morais Avenue and in the Inner Harbour, Miguel Campina is unsure how to achieve that. “How do you relocate industrial buildings in Venceslau de Morais, where there are relevant industrial operations? And how will they achieve something in the Inner Harbour area that has been planned in some detail since the beginning of the Macau SAR, considering that it will create direct conflict with the way that the area has been managed so far and which has benefited the operators of the piers”? 

He goes on to say: “What is the downside of creating the retail areas? Not dividing into zones? What about height limits? We’ll keep the existing ones? All these questions need to be addressed in detail. Of course, the answer has been provided. They will say that the detail plan will handle it. From detail plan to detail plan, the solutions will arise. Everything is lacking in this plan.” 

Nuno Soares says that it’s important that the Inner Harbour once again plays a role in the city, a role it has lost over time. But he knows the transformation “depends on the way it’s implemented.” He believes that the transformation is “a good idea”, but the architect remains on the alert with regards to certain questions. 

“After studying the plan, I believe it is clearly a strategic plan which will be implemented. It has ambition and sufficient tools to organize Macau’s future urban development.” Nuno Soares, architect 

“The area needs the flood prevention dykes, and other changes are needed also. All the piers support the fishing industry or the ship transportation industry, and they’ll have to be relocated. It’s a very sensitive area, and it has its own dynamics. So, it’s important to be extra careful when the time comes to elaborate the detail plan, in order to preserve what’s there, instead of creating a rupture.” 

Regarding the Inner Harbour transformation and the inclusion of retail streets and waterfront gardens, as well as converting the industrial area of the Venceslau de Morais Avenue into a retail area, Wong Seng Fat thinks they are positive suggestions: “The premise for urban renovation to happen is that the zone possesses some value. That’s the only way anyone will be interested in its renewal. Both ideas will bring added value to the area”. 

Wong continues, saying that “in the case of the Inner Harbour, if the transformation happens, there is a chance the LTR will eventually be built there. That will definitely help public transportation in that area and, thus, all of Macau’s. After that, the value of the zone will rise exponentially.” 

Regarding the Venceslau Morais zone, Wong believes that industrial activities in the area are increasingly less. “Taking into account that the area is home to an increasing number of residents, its revitalization will be great”. 

LRT plans as a “contradiction” 

Architect Francisco Ricarte says that the LTR East Line plan “spells the end of the LTR extension to the west side of the peninsula, without actually saying so.” His perspective is that it actually contradicts what the Master Plan forecasts for the Inner Harbour. “I know this is a very complicated and difficult subject, but I feel that not supporting the LTR’s expansion to that zone is contradictory with, for example, the investment in the rehabilitation and improvement of the Inner Harbour as a leisure area for the residents and as a tourism attraction area. We need some sort of system that allows people to reach that area.” 

Nuno Soares is of the opinion that the Master Plan affirms the LTR as a peripheral form of transportation in the peninsula and, as such, will not have a significant impact there. “This will decrease road works in the peninsula, but will also reduce the potential of the public transportation system. The approach of the LTR as peripheral is completely legitimate and valid,” he says. However, the architect points to the need to re-think the transportation system in the city centre. “Currently, the bus system we have in the peninsula is not adequate for the future development of Macau. So, it’s important that the LTR and the buses are able be intertwined more fluidly in the peninsula.” 

Francisco Vizeu Pinheiro agrees that the LTR should expand to the Inner Harbour area “because that zone holds a lot of housing – the Inner Harbour, Ilha Verde and Fai Chi Kei – so, it would serve as a means of transportation for that part of the population.” The architect also concludes that as it’s projected the LRT line “will really serve the tourists more, transporting them from the Border Gate to the Cotai.” 

On the other hand, Mr Vizeu Pinheiro feels that the city needs one more connection between the Macau Peninsula and Taipa Island. “At this point, people in NAPE need to access the edges in the Macau peninsula to enter one of the two bridges. So, we could use a third option with an access point in NAPE and linking it to central Taipa,” he suggests. 

Wong Seng Fat does not question the peripheral approach of the LTR. “Why must the East Line of the LTR be peripheral? Because there are no conditions for it to be otherwise. We look at the older parts of the city and we see narrow streets. We must plan its development very carefully, so that we can bring the LTR into those areas.” 

“The Master Plan must establish the guidelines for the gradual widening of streets and assorted areas, in order for the LTR to reach the heart of the peninsula.” Wong Seng Fat, vice-president of the Traffic Services Committee 

Wong Seng Fat also supports the idea that connecting Taipa to the Border Gate through Zone A of the new landfills “is correct, because, in the future, Zone A will welcome a large number of residents, much like the Border Gate area.” 

When asked about this same topic, Miguel Campina notes that a peripheral route “will be easier to materialize. Eventually, it should be able to transport tourists faster, more conveniently and in a less polluting way, to any attractions.” However, “while all that may be true, it never had and never will have the intention to serve the local residents.” He adds that, since the beginning, the LTR’s main objective was to “create special benefits for only a few.” 

The division of Coloane 

Francisco Ricarte mentions that the Master Plan “highlights a clear intention to territorially plan the future, with 18 zones and the role that each zone will play,” especially in the residential, retail and leisure sectors. But the architect considers that “there are many more proposals that could be brought forward pertaining the role each of these zones could play,” in both the existing city and the new land reclamations. 

Mr Ricarte also draws attention to the fact that there is no mention of the construction of new land reclamations and, if that happens, where it could happen. On the flipside, regarding the waterfront, he believes that much more could be done. “It’s a vital area to many of the future strategies that we can’t even imagine today. It’s not just a strategic ecologic reserve, but also a land reserve, an economic development reserve and other unforeseen reserves.” 

As for Coloane, Mr Ricarte thinks that “the island should be divided into two or three sub-units.” “It makes no sense to place the ecologic, landscape and natural side of Coloane in the same bag as the industrial one, like the Concordia Park or the Ka-Ho Port, because they are distinct realities, that are articulated differently and such approach  can potentially cause some disruption in the global intervention.” 

“When we want to safeguard the Historic Centre and other heritage areas, we must talk about urban rehabilitation.” Francisco Ricarte, architect 

Mr Vizeu Pinheiro holds a similar point of view. He says that Coloane should be divided into management and planning operative units. “I think that it should be divided into more zones, because it includes places like Seac Pai Van and Hac Sa. It’s very big and diverse and we can’t just have the same solution for all areas. The peninsula has several areas, some for housing, others for retail, but Coloane is considered as a single zone and I think it should be divided into several zones.” 

Also, Mr Vizeu Pinheiro stresses that the lack of mention to the old Iec Long Fireworks Factory is “a serious mistake”. “Regarding heritage, the big difference is that the Macau Tower area will have a less dense, more leisurely approach and that is a good idea. But you also need to create more zones within the city, if possible. Even in Iao Hon and Taipa. That is why the absence of Iec Long in the plan is a mistake. It is referred as collective use equipment instead of heritage.” 

(Xinhua/Cheong Kam Ka)

“The peninsula has several areas, some for housing, others for retail, but Coloane is considered as a single zone and I think it should be divided into several zones.” Francisco Vizeu Pinheiro, architect  

He adds that the population of Macau really needs more leisure areas. “Nowadays, that clearly shows when we go to Coloane and it’s always crowded. So, I would say that it makes perfect sense to create more leisure areas.” About the Fireworks factory, the Cultural Affairs Bureau’s vice-president, Leong Wai Man, said that the site is under a preliminary planning. 

Nuno Soares also talks about missing information. “When we look at the map, there are many details in the perspective of Macau, but we then notice that there is no information to understand what this or that zone is. The shipyard area is extremely sensitive, so, it’s one of the places where future development needs to be exceptionally coordinated with current reality.” 

On the topic of heritage, Nuno Soares says that “it’s the weakest part of the proposal”. “There are some good principles. It creates 21 visual corridors that make perfect sense, but the problem is that the basic list of heritage is very limited. The Master Plan is rather shallow on what is currently considered as heritage.” 

Eyes on the Greater Bay Area 

There were several reactions in local Chinese language media regarding the Master Plan. Loi Hoi Ngan, vice-director of the Macau Development Strategy Research Centre, underlines that, besides helping to clarify the position of Macau itself, the Director Plan may point the way for future studies about the integration of Macau in the Greater Bay and promote cooperation with neighbouring cities. 

For example, in the development of industrial and fishing areas transformation, strategies may include connecting with neighbouring regions and, in that sense, any new policy, besides guaranteeing the basic interests of residents, may provide them with opportunities for future regional development. 

Chan Chio I, member of the Urban Planning Council, says that the project was just a rough forecast about population size. He says that “the population should be transferred to the islands”, so that it’s better distributed. He adds that the Venceslau Morais Avenue should keep its current function. 

Chan Ka Leong, vice-president of the Macau General Union of Neighbourhood Associations (Kai Fong), hopes that the government provides more information on the land future uses and sheds light on the land that is slated for cultural and education purposes. Besides that, he feels that the government should listen to more opinions about public housing planning and the Zone A underground space. 

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