Case study of infrastructure growth: Hong Kong introduction

By Matt Burdett, 13 February 2019

On this page, we introduce Hong Kong as a case study of infrastructure growth over time in one city.

  • Hong Kong as seen from Lugard Road on The Peak. The homes of approximately five million people are visible in this photograph with over two million more spread over the rest of the territory.

Background to Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a unique place: it has a very high population density, over 7 million people, a very high GDP per capita, a relatively recent experience of colonialism (ending in 1997), a mixture of English and Chinese languages, and it is the world’s third largest financial hub. Most importantly, the city has a semi-independent status as a Special Autonomous Region in China. It has its own currency, legal system, immigration laws, and control over social and economic policies under the mini-constitution known as Hong Kong’s ‘Basic Law’ which will end in 2047 when the former colony is formally and fully integrated into China.

Hong Kong is made up of three regions, as shown below.

Hong Kong’s infrastructure challenges are also due to the mountainous and coastal nature of the city. The map below shows the relief of the territory in relation to other features.

Soft infrastructure

Hong Kong is a top-five world city according to the AT Kearney Global Cities Report (Mendoza Peña et al., 2018). The soft infrastructure includes some of the best educational opportunities in Asia (three of Asia’s top ten universities are in the city), a highly respected judicial system, and free public healthcare for everyone backed up by many private health insurers. A 2011 report by LSE Cities found Hong Kong topped an index of 129 major cities in several areas of social and economic development, which indicates the soft infrastructure of education services, healthcare and so on are successful:

Another key aspect of the soft infrastructure is the way that people can access government services. Hong Kong’s government services are some of the most accessible in the world with almost all of them online – you can do your taxes, book sporting facilities, make a noise complaint, request information about recycling, renew your library books and read the formal business of the Legislative Council (Hong Kong’s parliament) all through the government e-portal (GovHK, 2019).

Furthermore, Hong Kong’s secure Smart ID Card system allows people to access personal data from the government securely. The system is so secure it is used by Hong Kong residents to enter and leave Hong Kong instead of the use of a passport.

The challenge for hard infrastructure

Hard infrastructure is also world class. Transport, water, sanitation, energy, and telecommunications are all globally recognised.

However, as Hong Kong is one of the world’s most densely populated cities, this has been hard to achieve. In 2018 there were 6830 persons per square kilometre (Census, 2019), and the population density is increasing over time.





Hong Kong Island

16 000

15 690

15 620


45 710

47 750

48 060

New Territories and Islands

3 910

4 020

4 070


6 620

6 780

6 830

  • Population densities (persons per square kilometre) in the different regions of Hong Kong. Source: Census, 2019

The map below shows the population distribution across Hong Kong. The density of population in the northern section of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon should contribute to significant savings in infrastructure development, because of the distance of cabling, pipes and so on is lower because people live so close together. However, the density is so great that it can be difficult to avoid disruption on the existing networks when upgrading the systems or adding new parts to the network. The photograph at the top of the page shows a typical street in the centre of Kowloon, where closing roads to develop infrastructure has an obviously large impact.

International links: an unusual urban problem

In most cities, international connections are not a major concern. However, Hong Kong’s limited size means it has to include international links as part of its regular urban development. In the 1990s by the lack of capacity at the airport, which was located inside the harbour between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, led to the planning for a new airport. In 1998, Chek Lap Kok airport – more commonly known as Hong Kong airport – was opened and allowed massive expansion of commercial flights. In 2012 a third runway was given the go-ahead to be built in the sea next to the existing airport, including a new terminal, with a due date for completion by 2024 (Lee, 2018). All of this development occurred through land reclamation. The photograph below shows the airport in 2010.

  • Chek Lap Kok airport in 2010 prior to the extra development of the third runway and terminal that are being built in the foreground of the picture. Source: Chan, 2010

Another international link for Hong Kong is that with Zhuhai and Macau. These two cities are located approximately 40 km to the west of Hong Kong across the Pearl River Delta. To expand the cross-border trade and links with these two cities, the Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai authorities have built the world’s longest sea-bridge which includes highway junctions on stilts in the middle of the sea. The bridge carries vehicles on the upper level and a rail link on the lower level. It opened in 2018.


An, Liu and Liu, n.d. Regional Map of Hong Kong. Geog 351 SFU. Accessed 27 January 2019.

Burdett, Taylor and Kaasa, (eds.), 2011. Cities, Health and Well-being. Accessed 27 January 2019.

Census [Census and Statistics Department of the Hong Kong Government], 2019. Hong Kong in Figures (Latest Figures): Population density by area. Accessed 26 January 2019.

Chan, 2010. This photo was taken on Flight CA102, an A321-200 of Air China towards Beijing. Accessed 9 February 2019

Gibbs, 2018. Hong Kong-Macau bridge to open on Oct. 23. Accessed 9 February 2019.

GovHK, 2019. Government’s ICT Strategy & Initiatives. Accessed 14 February 2019.

Lee, 2018. Hong Kong airport looking to speed up expansion work to cut impact on flight numbers. Accessed 9 February 2019.

LSE Cities, via Byte Sized Investments, 2017. MTR Corp’s First Competitive Advantage. Accessed 26 January 2019.

Mendoza Peña et al., 2018. 2018 Global Cities Report – Learning from the East: Insights from China’s Urban Success. Accessed 13 February 2019.

Case study of infrastructure growth: Hong Kong – an introduction: Learning activities


  1. Describe the physical features of Hong Kong. [2]
  2. Identify the three regions of Hong Kong. [1]
  3. Describe the soft infrastructure of Hong Kong. [2]
  4. Create a sketch map showing the population densities of different parts of Hong Kong. [4] Note: 2 marks for BOLTS (Border, Orientation north arrow, Legend, Title and Scale) and 2 marks for correct use of shading or similar method to show density.
  5. ‘High population density can lead to savings in the cost of infrastructure.’ Evaluate the accuracy of this statement in relation to Hong Kong. [6]
  6. Describe Hong Kong’s infrastructure regarding its links to places outside of Hong Kong. [4]
  7. Suggest reasons why Hong Kong’s infrastructure has developed to a highly advanced stage compared to other world cities. [4]

Other tasks

On a blank map of Hong Kong, add the major features of infrastructure that are shown on this page. Continue to add to your map using the other pages on this site.

Going further

Hong Kong is the fifth most globalised city of 2018. It has held this position for a number of years. Look at the AT Kearney Global Cities Report 2018 or the most recent available and conduct research to identify the common features of all the top five cities (London, New York, Paris and Tokyo) in terms of their general infrastructure.

© Matthew Burdett, 2019. All rights reserved.

All secondary material on this site is clearly referenced and may be subject to copyright restrictions by the original authors. All original material on this page is subject to copyright.