WLAB’s Inclusive Cities Summit 2022 connects 5 key topics: Sustainability, spatial inclusion, social inclusion, economic inclusion, and cultural inclusion.
An inclusive city incorporates all aspects of sustainability within it, including “social”, “environmental”, and “economic”.
Looking at the UN SDGs, we will specifically dive into achieving “Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns” with a workshop focused on circularity (life cycle of trash). We will also look at how ESG (environmental, social, governance) is relevant to sustainability and inclusion.
How is Hong Kong on the sustainability track?
In terms of social sustainability, among other issues, gender inequality remains deep-rooted. Women still earn less than men (hourly wage is 15% less than men in 2020). Fewer women receive secondary education (79.4% of women and 85.4% of men) and participate in the workforce (49.6% of women and 66.2% of men) than men in 2020.
With regards to environmental sustainability, for example, Hong Kong lags behind other APAC cities in the green certification rate for new office buildings less than five years old. Hong Kong stands at a rate of around 61% in 2019, with Singapore and Sydney both at over 80%.
Regarding economic sustainability, green and sustainable finance are becoming more mainstream. In the 2020 Hong Kong Green Finance Association Annual Forum, green and inclusive recovery were identified as key factors to Hong Kong’s economic development. The government also stepped up its game by doubling the size of the green bond programme in 2021, as compared to 2017, to HK$200 billion.
To achieve urban inclusion, we need to provide affordable necessities like housing, sanitation, hygiene, and health infrastructures. Aside from being affordable, there needs to be equitable access across race/ethnicity, gender, age, and social class to ensure the right to health and wellbeing of everyone.
We also need to improve the quality of citizens’ lives by providing a habitable living environment. In a 2022 study, nearly 50% of Hongkongers showed symptoms of mild to severe depression, and 41.3% showed symptoms of mild to severe anxiety. With such high rates of mental health issues, exposure to nature and green spaces is important. Another study showed that a 90-min nature walk is linked to decreased rumination and better mental wellbeing overall. Other positive effects of contact with nature include reduced chronic stress, reduced anxiety and depression, reduction in obesity, and improved concentration.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the structural inequalities existing in cities. For example, women are particularly burdened with the responsibility of caretaking, hindering their ability to fully participate in economic opportunities. Hong Kong’s population is also ageing, with 20% of the total population aged over 65 in 2021. At the same time, over 6,800 buildings in the city are 50 years old or more in 2019. Old buildings usually lack accessibility infrastructures for both the elderly and the differently-abled. Being inclusive means equality between genders, races, and people of different income levels, abilities, and ages.
We also need to talk about the physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing of citizens. In a study, almost 56% of Hongkongers scored below 52 out of 100 on the World Health Organisation 5 (WHO – 5) Well-Being Index, indicating “poor” overall mental wellbeing. Regarding physical wellbeing, 31.1% of Hongkongers have chronic health conditions, and many of these chronic diseases are on the rise.
Being socially inclusive is not only the right thing, but also helps the economy by decreasing loss of wages, improving education and employment outcomes, and reducing healthcare expenditure.
Inclusion in cities means creating equal job opportunities and letting all citizens enjoy the benefits of economic growth. Financial inclusion is an enabler for 7 of the 17 SDGs. The World Bank Group also highlights the role of financial inclusion in reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity.
The COVID-19 pandemic has, again, proven the need for digital financial inclusion, which can possibly reach underserved populations at a more affordable cost. In addition to promoting digitalisation, work on gender gap in account ownership and gender pay gap remains to be done.
Rapid urbanisation and gentrification in cities pose threats to the traditions and heritage of a place. In Hong Kong, multiple heritage and F&B icons are lost due to urbanisation and the pandemic, including State Theatre (皇都戲院), Lin Heung Tea House (蓮香樓), and Tai Wing Wah Restaurant (灣仔大榮華). Other iconic buildings and sites are lost for various other reasons, including Jumbo Floating Restaurant (珍寶海鮮舫).
In face of these threats, culturally inclusive means proactive cultural conservation and revitalisation to preserve the vibrancy of cities.
From an urban perspective, cultural inclusion stands for co-creation in cities using the best innovative, creative, and entrepreneurial practices. With a diverse mix of mindsets and ideologies, our problem-solving abilities would be more holistic, allowing us to deliver a more robust social impact.
Interested in taking action?
Join WLAB’s Inclusive Cities Summit 2022 for a deep dive and get excited to co-create actions towards a more inclusive city!