It's a city whose development is permanently, rapidly, in progress. Now, it's about to go into overdrive.
"A barren rock", as British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston described it in 1841, Hong Kong now has more than 1,300 skyscrapers – more than any other city – a 7.3 million-strong population and a GDP, in 2016, just shy of US$321 billion.
And yet, in the grand scheme of things, this story of exponential urbanisation has only just begun. And what was, less than 200 years ago, a cluster of sleepy fishing villages is about to undergo a glut of rapid upgrades in terms of transport links as well as commercial and cultural activity.
The Hong Kong SAR Government has already invested more than US$71 billion in capital works projects over the past decade, and several more transport initiatives, to be completed over the next five to 10 years, will link Asia's largest financial centre to its immediate surrounds.
These include the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, which will connect Hong Kong to the national high-speed rail network (trains with a top speed of 200km/h in the fully underground Hong Kong Section will whisk passengers to Shenzhen in just 14 minutes), effectively bringing residents of the Special Administrative Region and their neighbours to the north much closer together. Travelling time between Guangzhou and Hong Kong will be shortened from roughly two hours currently to around 48 minutes in future.
The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB) snaking over and under the Pearl River Estuary and linking three major cities, will undoubtedly smooth the way for Hong Kong companies wishing to expand business in the Mainland, while improved road links beyond the HZMB and into China's neighbouring countries such as Vietnam will strengthen Hong Kong's hand as a logistics and trading hub in the region.
Then there are the ongoing enhancements to local transport network to consider. The 17km Shatin to Central Link is scheduled to open between 2019 and 2021, while other railway projects in the pipeline include the East Kowloon Line, the Northern Link (which will facilitate interchange between the East and West Rail Lines in the northern New Territories) as well as a westward extension of the Tung Chung Line. Along with new stations at Kwu Tung, Hung Shui Kiu, Tung Chung East and Tuen Mun South, all these developments represent great confidence and vision for the city's long-term development.
Another major development will see a Three-Runway System introduced to Hong Kong International Airport – which is already one of eight in the world with a 5-Star Skytrax rating, and is situated just 24 minutes from the CBD. The addition of the third runway will enable it to handle around 100 million passengers and nine million tonnes of cargo per annum.
Hong Kong remains one of the world's busiest container ports, providing about 330 container liner services per week connecting to around 470 destinations worldwide. Various measures such as the recent deepening of the Kwai Tsing container basin and its approaching channel, and the establishment of the Hong Kong Maritime and Port Board will surely reinforce Hong Kong's status as an international maritime and shipping hub.
All these projects are certain to open up considerable tourism, commerce and cultural exchange opportunities: especially in conjunction with the Belt and Road Initiative – a plan to boost trade and investment modelled on the historic Silk Road, which paved the way for flows of trade, people and information for almost two millennia. The new Belt and Road Initiative is expected to improve trade, investment and cultural links between around 4.4 billion people in 60-plus countries.
It's not just Hong Kong's transportation network that's set for a makeover. The government has earmarked, in its 2017-18 Budget, HK$10 billion (US$1.3 billion) to support innovation and technology development in Hong Kong, and the good news for Hong Kong's burgeoning technology scene doesn't end there.
A joint project between Hong Kong and its neighbouring city Shenzhen, the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park will be developed in the Lok Ma Chau Loop to provide a key base for scientific research, as well as relevant higher education, cultural and creative and other complementary facilities. The 87-hectare site is expected to create around 50,000 jobs inside the Park, and attract top innovation and technology enterprises, R&D as well as higher education institutions from around the world.
The Energizing Kowloon East initiative is fostering the transformation of the former industrial areas in Kwun Tong and Kowloon Bay as well as the former Kai Tak Airport into a vibrant economic district. The strategy focuses on four key elements – Connectivity, Branding, Design and Diversity – signifying the emergence of Kowloon East as another core business district in Hong Kong embodied in the acronym 'CBD2'. Plans for a sports stadium and indoor arena in the same area have also been given the green light, while on the other side of the Kowloon Peninsula, a 40-hectare water-front complex, the West Kowloon Cultural District, will complement the aforementioned business and tourism focussed developments with performing arts venues, the M+ Museum for visual culture, Hong Kong Palace Museum and an Art Park.
Add to all this the vibrant transformation of Victoria Harbour's waterfront; the planned Northeast Lantau Tourism Gateway; plus the prospect of the East Lantau Metropolis becoming a third core business district (or 'CBD3', if you will), and the putative Pearl Of The Orient looks set to burst out of its shell.
Appropriately for an ambitious international city such as Hong Kong, its multifaceted development strategy is both local and global; as it expands and fortifies its economic links with the wider world, it remains dedicated to enhancing internal infrastructure and quality of life. Thanks to this dual approach to future-proofing itself, Asia's world city looks set to shine brighter than ever before.