Should Hong Kong and Shenzhen Merge? Tectonic Movements Towards a Regional Approach in the Pearl River Delta

Anthony Townsend's picture

The Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre, a think tank close to Hong Kong governor Donald Tsang, has just released a report arguing that it might make sense for Hong Kong and Shenzhen to merge into a single metropolitan entity. According to The Economist Cities Guide email update (one of the magazine's best services for subscribers and a most for global urban trendwatches):

"The discussion paper suggests a quasi-merger of the two cities to create a metropolis like London or New York. Shenzhen, which did not exist 30 years ago, has a population of 9m and is one of the mainland's "special economic zones". The suggested merger would aim to ease the flow of people, freight and information between the cities and develop the intervening territory."

I found this interesting because my first trip to Asia in 2000, to Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta area of Guangzhou province, was as part of an MIT planning studio focused on looking at the region as a single urban entity. Working with Hong Kong governor would-be (and garment tycoon) Victor Fung as part of Project 2022, our report provided a really solid basis for understanding and comprehensively planning regional change.

I don't know enough about the politics of Hong Kong to know if Fung and Tsang are allies. But either way, that another voice is getting behind this sensible way of thinking big about the region's future is a very positive step towards solving some of the region's many, large-scale and complex problems.

Technorati Tags: economic development, infrastructure, mobility

Anthony Townsend is a research director at the Institute for the Future (IFTF) in Palo Alto, California.



It depends on what you mean by "merge" and "planning"

A proposal of this scale is provocative, but note what it is and isn't. In effect, it asks for less planning rather than more. The executive summary of the Bauhinia report doesn't argue for a single entity so much as fewer trade and labor barriers between these two adjacent, monstrously dynamic, and increasingly linked metropolitan economies. That is, it calls for a single urban private mixed-market economy, as we'd find in any other metropolitan area within a single country. The proposed public sector reforms are virtually all deregulation.

The report does suggest additional regional coordination of physical development, the focus of the MIT study. But the "open borders" part of the proposal has an altogether different goal, namely, improving the metro area's competitiveness vis-à-vis other Chinese global cities, such as neighboring Pearl River mega-economy Guangzhou. It is easy to imagine how land- and people-scarce Hong Kong (where the government encourages having many children, while Shenzhen still has a one-child policy) would like little more than to effectively annex the land and labor of its land- and labor-abundant little sister. (Younger, anyway. Shenzhen is sometimes estimated to have perhaps twice the HK population and is growing by leaps and bounds.)

This is really more about improved Hong Kong access to land and labor than better regional planning. Still, it is happening; only the pace is uncertain.

Randall Crane, UCLA

p.s. An interesting policy wrinkle that you might think would interfere with integrating their transportation networks: Cars, trucks & buses drive on the right in Shenzhen and on the left in HK. Still, thousands cross-commute each day.

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