Tung Chung Development Traps in a DilemmaAlong the coast of Tung Chung is a wall of towering apartments, offering tourists their first glimpse of the new town and the high-rises typical of Hong Kong. The airport town has long been a haven for flight crew and budget-conscious white-collar workers, though local residents would argue otherwise.

Literally meaning “eastern stream,” Tung Chung was believed to be a small fishing village and farming town populated since the Song Dynasty in the twelfth century. It wasn’t until the 1990s that it was earmarked as a new town on northern Lantau Island designed to support the development of the new airport at Chek Lap Kok.

Private housing estates dominate the heart of the neighbourhood, boasting clubhouses and podium gardens. Housing in Tung Chung is known for its affordability, with prices between $5,000 and $6,000 per square foot, compared to West Kowloon’s heftier $10,000 per square foot according to Midland Realty. Rents for private flats fetch $10,000 on average.

Tung Chung Crescent and Seaview Crescent were the area’s forerunners. Other notable developments include the pet-friendly Caribbean Coast and Coastal Skyline, offering apartments ranging from standard onebedroom flats to more luxurious duplexes sized over 1,200 square feet.

“When I first moved to Tung Chung, I enjoyed the tranquillity here — where you could enjoy a view of the mountain and the sea, and get the feel of living a country life in the city at home,” says Shirley Lau, a Tung Chung resident who moved from Kowloon’s Tai Kok Tsui eight years ago. “But now on holidays, every corner in Tung Chung is crowded with people.”

The widespread perception to Tung Chung residents is that the new town is more a tourist hub rather than a place to call home. Disneyland is just one MTR station away from Tung Chung; Hong Kong International Airport is a short bus trip away. The Citygate outlet mall, adjacent to the upmarket Novotel Citygate, is not only popular with Hongkongers, it has become tourists’ lastminute shopping spot. Since the opening of Ngong Ping 360, hundreds of tourists flock to Tung Chung terminal every day for a cable car ride to the big Buddha and the Po Lin monastery on the other side of the island.

And there is this dark side of the boondocks, behind the luxury apartments. Notorious for its remote location and lack of basic facilities, the isolated neighbourhood has long struggled to be self-reliant, thanks to its “flawed” design. It wasn’t until two years ago that a public swimming pool and library finally opened, though an acute hospital was set for completion by the end of 2012.

A somewhat inconvenient truth is that 22 percent of Tung Chung’s residents live below the poverty line, surpassing that of Sham Shui Po and Yuen Long statistics show, not to mention the hefty transport costs that become an extra burden for residents. Home to half of the new town’s population, public housing estates in Tung Chung — just about a five-minute bus ride from the train station — have made headlines for their suicides, illegal gambling, gang fights and youth crimes. Some speculate as to whether Tung Chung is on the verge of becoming the next Tin Shui Wai, the “city of sadness.”

Nevertheless, others anticipate a brand-new Tung Chung in the very near future. The city’s chief executive is committed to giving Tung Chung a fundamental facelift. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor called Tung Chung a “bridgehead economic zone,” a potential regional logistics and business hub. A commute from Tung Chung to Central is a 20- to 30-minute ride via the Tung Chung MTR line, which also stops at Tsing Yi and Kowloon stations. Ferry services link Tung Chung with Tai O and Tuen Mun.

Under a concept plan for Lantau published as early as 2007, the Tung Chung new town is slated to grow twice its size, with its population tripling to 230,000 and with more parks and recreational facilities to be built, though construction isn’t expected to begin until 2020.

To realise these ambitions, a slew of infrastructure projects at its doorstep are already underway, including plans to build a third runway at the new airport to cope with increasing air traffic and the controversial Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, which will shorten travel time to the Pearl River Delta to merely 20 minutes when it’s finished in 2016.

While officials, businessmen and developers have high hopes for the new town, others are less optimistic. The master plan has aroused concern from green groups, which opposes the government plans to reclaim part of the Tung Chung river and Tung Chung Bay immediately south of the airport due to their ecological value.

It’s perhaps understandable local residents have mixed feelings: somehow excited but still anxious about a new Tung Chung. “The development plan, associated with a population boom, will probably put a strain on Tung Chung’s insufficient facilities,” Lau says. “We waited seven to eight years before a library and a swimming pool was built. It’s been almost nine years now and Tung Chung is still lacking a hospital.”