MACAU (1999-2009) / URBAN PLANNING OF COTAI: 2. LAND USE TENSION BETWEEN CASINOS & THE PUBLIC
17 years ago, when Macau was still under the rule of the Portuguese government, Macau peninsula was the only place that was allowed the land use for hotels and casinos and there was only one gambling license allowed in the gambling industry. After the handover to Chine, with a generous piece of reclaimed land (5.2 sq. km) on hold, the new government made a decision to build casino resorts instead of housing and public spaces. They enacted a new law, ending the previous monopoly. However, this new urban development implied several social issues due to land use allocation within Macau’s extreme condition of density (Macau has the world’s highest urban area population density, around 27,000 people per sq. km).
It all started in 1992, before the handover of Macau to China. To anticipate the population increase in Macau in the future 15 years, the Portuguese government devised a plan, called Cotai City, to build residential areas with subsidiary social programs for 180,000 residents to ease the severe congestion on the peninsula. The design aimed to accommodate future population and economic growth and provide a high quality environment by keeping the urban density low and infusing large green zones with lakes.
After the 2002 casino liberation which ended Stanley Ho’s monopoly, the government decided to adapt the plans created earlier to fit in casino resort facilities instead housing communities. This shift also included the amalgamation of the small urban blocks delineated by the 1999 plan towards the creation of a few mega blocks. The casino resorts in the new plan were so out-of scale within the neighborhood that all the sidewalks in the original plans disappeared, absorbed by the large patches within the urban fabric.
The start of the Cotai Strip Era anchored on the construction of the Venetian Hotel in Macau, in 2004. However, four years later, it was revealed by Bega District News that land developers had began construction on the site before formal rezoning procedures had been completed and two years before it was officially gazetted. Other hotels that came after the Venetian, such as City of Dreams, Valdo and Galaxy went through the same thing. The substantial problem of land supply for the development of new casinos has resulted in the disregard of regulations and control. Issues concerning infrastructures, land use, public space, have become negotiable matters since the government wanted to retain the international casino organizations without raising public disputes.
The priority of land requirements given to casinos over the public needs has particularly impacted the living conditions of local residents, especially the aging population. Since 1999, housing and public space needs were waiting to be solved, but the government’s devotion towards tourism development has consequently obliterated the original plans of Cotai to alleviate the overcrowding problems in Macau peninsula. 85% of the substantial portion of reclaimed land, initially allocated to residential and public land uses, had been converted to casino uses and leased to gaming corporations to realize large casino resorts. The transition has resulted in the widening of economic inequality, traffic congestion, the high cost of housing, and a deterioration of the living environment.
Although the casino industry has an enormous contribution to Macau’s economic success, it has placed an equal amount of pressure on the available land supply, resulting in tension between the Macau government, gaming corporations and the public society. However, population growth is still a big problem that has to be dealt with. By discarding one of the few housing plans that were proposed, the government must search for new ways to solve the housing problems under the constraint of land scarcity.
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