Macao builds a new frontier with ambitious reclamation

24 April 2015

Within the next two years, Macao will enter a new phase in its history with the implementation of an ambitious land reclamation programme that will add more than 12 percent to the city’s land area and create much needed new directions for the economy.

It comprises five landfills that will total 350 hectares and accommodate up to 350,000 people. Most of the land will be reserved for public housing, commerce and culture and large areas will be retained as green spaces.

The aim is to improve the housing environment and the quality of life for Macao’s citizens. The government’s goal is to “create conditions for the development of Macao as a world tourism and entertainment centre”.

It is one of the largest reclamations in the history of the city.

The start of the project

The Public Works and Transport Bureau (DSSOPT) said that the planning procedure involves three phases, two of them already completed. Between 2009 and 2010, the government organised the first of a series of public consultations, which yielded a wide range of different views. In 2011, the government drafted a provisional master plan, which was submitted to a second round of public consultation.

This produced a consensus on principles to be included in a final master plan. The list of essential requirements included: improvement of the quality of life and promotion of economic diversification; giving priority to public transport and eco-friendly means of transport; and paying close attention to the natural environment, including promotion of green areas and enhancing the beauty of coastal areas.

The final master plan that is still in the making envisages different usages for each landfill. Zone A, the biggest of the five, is to be used for public housing as well as building facilities for community recreation and culture.  With an area of approximately 138 hectares, Zone A is located to the west of the maritime terminal, the reservoir and Areia Preta. To the east of Zone A there will be an artificial island for the bridge that will connect Macao to Hong Kong and Zhuhai.

The island will be separated from Zhuhai by a channel. The project includes building a link between Zone A and the Fourth Bridge and construction of roads to Cotai. “The new roads will benefit the access points to the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao bridge, the development of Hengqin Island, the border gate in Cotai and the development plan for Macau International Airport,” said the DSSOPT in a note to Macao magazine.

Zone A is expected to provide housing for 57,000 people, mainly in 19,000 housing units to be located in the north of the zone. In the centre, there will be a combination of commercial development and housing. In the south, next to the sea, there will be different industries along with tourism and cultural facilities.

Walking by the sea

Zone B will be mainly used to house administrative offices, with priority given to judicial services and tourism. There will also be a promenade area with gardens by the sea. Some of the zone will be reserved for housing and shopping. Located south of Macao Peninsula, Zone B is divided by the Governador Nobre de Carvalho bridge. The eastern part will start near the Macao Science Centre and the western part will be adjacent to the Macao Tower and the Nam Van lake area. With a total area of 47 hectares, this zone should “harmonise with Macao’s world heritage landscape and give continuity to the city centre function”, according to a recently updated government draft of the master plan. It will house about 6,000 inhabitants in an estimated 2,000 housing units.

Low-carbon area

Taken together, Zones C, D and E should have the capacity to house 67,000 people in about 22,000 housing units. These three zones are also expected to be the green areas of the reclamation project. Located near the northern part of Taipa Island, Zones C, with 33 hectares, and D, with 59, will be separated by a channel and adjacent to the Shizimen channel. In view of their location, the government project for the master plan suggests that these zones will be ideal for the creation of a low carbon-index pilot zone.  The two zones should have areas solely reserved for housing, while other parts will be allocated to a combination of commerce, housing and green space.

Zone E will be located on the northeast side of Taipa Island and will be divided into two sub-regions: E1 with 53 hectares, close to the Pac On ferry terminal, and E2 with 20 hectares, close to Macao International Airport. Both should have areas mostly for shopping and housing, and other areas of office space close to shops. Some parts of the zone will be reserved for municipal facilities or retained as green areas. The coast along Zones C, D and E “will be designated as a green corridor”. This will be an area where citizens and tourists can be in contact with water and enjoy leisure activities.

Work done and to be done

According to the DSSOPT, the landfill construction for Zone B was the first to take place and is already finished. It was followed by work on Zone A, which is now 20 to 30 percent complete. The landfill of Zone E has started and will be followed by that of Zones C and D. Reclamation in these zones will be coordinated with work on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao bridge, the reorganisation of avenue Sun Yat Sen, the maritime ferry terminal in Taipa and the fourth bridge to Taipa. Meanwhile, according to DSSOPT, the final master plan for the five tracts of land is being drafted and “the third round of public consultation should occur as soon as possible”.

Multi-functional and connected

The Architects Association of Macau (AAM) has come out strongly in favour of the reclamation plan and has published a number of comments and recommendations. One of its main concerns is that the five new tracts of land should be well connected with each other and the rest of the city, as well as being multifunctional. “There is some concern about the connection between the new landfills and the existing urban setting,” said Nuno Soares, a director of the AAM, as he outlined the recommendations from the organisation. His comments are based on the second round of public consultations in 2011, when the AAM compiled a document containing a series of recommendations.

One specific issue covered by the AAM was the status of Zone A which will be the biggest tract of reclaimed land and physically separate from the Peninsula. “Physical separation has some advantages,” noted Soares. “We will extend the territory’s coastline and have more areas close to the river, but we will also have to deal with the problem of a possible lack of connectivity between the new and old parts of the territory.” The AAM director hopes that the final master plan will include proposals for strengthening the links between the reclaimed areas and Macao Peninsula.  “We in Macao don’t have much space for more private cars and our public transportation system is not very efficient, as we still lack a light railway transit system. If we create one more island and that island is not well connected to the rest of Macao, are we going to favour the use of individual transport?” he said.

Soares also warned that there might be a “synergy” problem, with a coordinated master plan for the new landfills but still no comparable plan for the peninsula. “It has concerned us in the AAM, since the beginning, that these new landfills might be thought of in isolation and not in coordination with the city.” For instance, considering that the north part of Macao has no green spaces and with the new landfills being built close by, it is advisable that there should be ready access from the existing city to the new tracts of land. “It’s this type of complementarity that we believe the project should promote,” he said.

Furthermore, the AAM recommends that the new landfills are planned to harmonise with other major projects, including the Light Railway Transit, the bridge connecting Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macao and the expansion towards Hengqin Island. Soares suggested that, to make this kind of coordination possible, the master plan needed to be flexible, especially as land reclamation and development will still be going on 20 to 30 years from now. “The rules need to be very clear right from the start, but the plan needs to have the capacity to grow,” he said.

No casinos

Soares welcomed the decision not to build casinos on the new land. He sees the new areas as providing an opportunity for economic diversification and allowing space for creative and cultural industries. He also advised that each landfill needed to be multifunctional: “I’m against the idea that one landfill should be exclusively for services and another one for housing, since that generates spacial segregation and could mean that we have areas of the city that only have life during the day.” As an example of the type of development he prefers, he said: “Zone A will have both offices and housing and therefore should be multi-functional. That means that people who live there may also work there.”

He is particularly interested in the diversification of the coastal areas created by the new developments. “We need to have a coastline that is not only a green belt but also serves  different functions, so that there will be different activities by the sea and the city is not separated from the water… It is important that the coastline has shops, public services and different activities.” That is why the AAM has recommended that, together with parks close to the water, there should be ports for small boats, balconies projecting above the water and buildings directly linked to the water “If one of the advantages of these new landfills is that they will increase the area of contact with the water, it is important to exploit this.”

Learning from history

Looking at Macao’s evolution, Soares believes one of the “problems” with the last landfills in the territory was that they created more traffic, resulting in roads that “do not work”. He cited the example of the road between the reservoir and the Border Gate. “There is a green area on the other side of the road next to the water, but it just allows a big separation between the city and the river,” he said.

The AAM also believes the size of each block in the newly developed areas will be very important. “What we call the suburban model can be seen in Cotai, where we have big offices and towers standing on big lots. We recommend that [for these new landfills] the lots are not too big,” said Soares. “If the lots are too big, we may break the functional connections within the city. On the other hand, if the lots are medium-sized, there can be different types of development in one area that allow local promoters to participate.”  One reason why local diversity is important is that it opens the way for different types of company to invest in a given area, not only the big corporations, he added

Moving about within the new developments will be another important issue. In today’s Macao, you can use personal as well as public transport and walk where possible. This is something that should also be retained in the new landfills. Soares believes the five tracts of land should avoid the typical modern model of very large roads and very large neighbourhoods. “In each of the new landfills, one should be able to walk from one end to the other.”

Finally, the AAM believes that, to avoid situations in which the landfills stay empty for many years waiting for the full implementation of the plan, the master plan needs to provide for temporary use of the new land. “We need to have a plan that says that, in the first five years, we will have this kind of development and, in the next six, we will have that kind. Plans should be constantly updated because, over time, there will be different needs that we cannot predict today,” said Soares.

Building on landfill

The five new landfills provide solutions to a range of problems that could emerge over the next 20-30 years. Using landfills as a strategic instrument for promoting and directing growth, however, is not new. Since the end of the 19th century, Macao has been taking land from the sea to expand. “Initially [most of] what now is flat land was sea,” said architect José Maneiras: “For instance, the hill in Rua do Campo reached Vasco da Gama garden and went through Guia − all this land as far as Dom Bosco was beaches. In fact, there were many beaches in Macao. Prior to the beginning of the 20th century, you had the city wall starting from the Mount Fortress and Saint Paul. And, when you reached Mong Ha, you had rice fields, waterlogged, and the city wall existed all the way through until Ferreira do Amaral square,” he said.

According to the book Cem Dias que mudaram Macau (One Hundred Days that Changed Macau), by Sérgio Infante, Rogério Beltrão Coelho, Paula Alves and Cecília Jorge, up until the 19th century, Macao’s territory was unchanged − a peninsula, with Green Island separated from the city. It was only at the end of the 19th century that the first landfills took place. “In the coastal area of Inner Harbour, between Santiago fort and the Patane, deep coves gave way to a continuous coastline with piers, and an artificial dock was built,” it said.

In the new century, the conquest of land from the sea continued in the coastal area of the Inner Harbour, between Patane beach and the Lin Fong temple, with the opening of two docks and in Green Island. In the early decades of the 20th century, the concept of growth through land reclamation rapidly gained ground with policy makers so that, by 1927, most of the general landfill areas that would be used up to 1991 were already decided.

Historical landfills

According to the book Macau na Cartografia Náutica (Macau in the Nautical Cartography), the first big landfill occurred in 1936, between San Francisco Garden and the Reservoir/Areia Preta. In the same year, the Inner Harbour landfill was concluded, but it was considered a failure. “It was a flop as a harbour, since it was supposed to have deeper water and be used by big ships,” explained Maneiras. The government had plans, after 1926, to create a deep water harbour as well as to close the channel that gave access to the Inner Harbour, close to Barra, through a landfill starting from Taipa.   But no construction was done at that time.

By the end of the 20th century, the peninsula had an area of 7.7 km2 while Taipa covered 5.8 km2 and Coloane 7.8 km2. , a total of 21.3 km2. This was a 100 percent increase of the territory’s size at the start of 20th century when the peninsula and the islands of Taipa and Coloane together measured a modest 11.6 km2. The biggest expansion occurred, after 1999, with the landfills in Cotai, which added 6 km2 to the territory. “Whether [the Cotai project] made sense or not, the truth is that it was necessary to provide land for investors,” said Maneiras. But the project was heavily biased to gaming centres and featured tall buildings and wide roads and was “a bit removed from the historical essence of Macao”, he added.

Justification for landfills

Soares, the AAM director, sees the frequent landfills of the last century as historically justified. “Macao was always small and we needed to expand. Besides, it is located in a part of the Pearl River Delta in which the water is not too deep and building reclamation land was easy.”

“Macao has the very nice characteristic of always keeping the old urban area while adding new ones. However, with these five new reclamation projects, the situation is different, as the new landfills will be mostly islands, not directly connected to [the rest of] Macao,” he said. “Of the five new projects, Zones A, C and D are islands.” Zones B, E1 and E2 are extensions to existing land and thus more in the historical tradition of landfills in Macao.

Considering that land is in short supply, Soares believes these new landfills can bring added value. “Most activity in the territory is currently concentrated in the peninsula and Taipa and these landfills can free up a bit of the peninsula. We can also make sure [with this scheme] that urban evolution doesn’t move as far as Coloane, concentrating more on Macao and Taipa,” he said. “Looking at the city’s long-term evolution, development through landfills has gone pretty well. The city we now have is well connected and has a lot of diversity between different areas. And that could only have been achieved through landfills. Without them, Macao would have stagnated.”(By Luciana Leitão. Photos by Eric Tam, in Macao Magazine)