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Sustainability warriors🎉🎉: The improbable destiny of Paul Zimmerman

This is not an article.

This is a story of life happening.


In a small Dutch town in the 70s, Paul is in his teens. He stays with his businessman dad, working mom and 4 siblings. He dreams to travel to far way lands in search of a more exciting life. He was been looking for adventure.


God listens.


After his study Paul is proposed a 3-month traineeship in Hong Kong. He leaves his European home, bringing in his baggage his degree in Economics, his love for the outdoor life and his can-do attitude.


Once in Hong Kong, Paul quickly realizes that he is not a banker. He however falls in love with the city. Within 2 months of arriving in HK Paul was hiking, sailing and scuba diving. He loves his Hong Kong life (mostly outdoorsy one, here)!!

In Pic: Young Paul has his eyes set on discovering the world

He tries another 6-month stint in an IT company and another year and half in a Public Relations firm he realizes that these jobs was not what he was looking for either. He has entrepreneurship in his genes and so starts his own graphic design firm called Bridge Design.


1990s. Paul’s business is growing. One day, Paul makes an important business call; a cold call to Christine Loh who had just set up a new political party called “Citizens Party”. He proposed to make a logo for “Clean Air” project, something he truly believed would be good for Hong Kong. That was Paul’s first stint with anything concrete related to sustainability. For him, sustainability was never a conscious choice. It was all there in his heart and spirit. “Nowadays sustainability is a career choice. But, back then, you just followed your heart”, Paul says with a smile.


Ever since, Paul has been an active player in the sustainable development of Hong Kong and an advocate for urban planning.


So, “how does a young Dutch small town economics graduate end up becoming a sustainability advocate, Chinese national and a Hong Kong politician?”, I wonder aloud. The storyteller continues…


In the early 2000s, Zimmerman starts working on a project, alongside businessman Chung Po-yan, which they titled “Designing Hong Kong Harbour District”. It was devoted to improving Hong Kong's waterfronts and promoting livable density in HK. For this project Paul got his inspiration from his country, from Rotterdam.

Paul Zimmerman advocating for the HK Island coastal trail


In response to this project, the HK Government sets up the Harbourfront Enhancement Committee in 2004. For his role in improving the harbourfront of Victoria Harbour, Paul is awarded a honorary membership of the American Institute of Architects.


Later, the project was converted into a company while dropping the ‘Harbourfront’ bit from its name. Designing Hong Kong, founded by Paul together with a few partners is a not-for-profit organization with the mission of promoting sustainable urban planning, that Hong Kong very much needed.


Paul enjoying a sporty outdoor Hong Kong life


The topics Paul and his team were dealing with involved discussing and interfacing with politicians.

Around that time, the Civic Party was being set-up and Paul was invited as one of the founding members. It was a new field for him but as always for Paul, novelty and challenges or their combination were his thing.


In September 2010, Paul Zimmerman was elected as the District Councillor representing the Pokfulam Constituency for the first time and has been winning re-elections ever since.


In 2012, Paul Zimmerman received his Certificate for Naturalization as a Chinese National.


So, after 20 odd years working on sustainable living and conservation topics, what is sustainability according to Paul Zimmerman, HK lover and District councillor? “I am a simple man, with simple basic needs. I want my air to be clear, my street to be clean, my country park to be pristine. Sustainability for me is a very selfish act you may say. It is trying to improve things for yourself and your neighbours. Its change management”.


Apart from the harbourfront, Paul and his team have worked on the core heritage landmarks of HK (the clock tower, the street markets), Public space optimization and of course waste management.


As a maverick, he identifies an issue, works on it to raise awareness and mobilizes public opinion. Once the government moves in his direction, he let’s them carry on with the execution of his proposal and moves on to other issues.


After the harbourfront, Paul notably worked on an issue that the HK country parks were facing. In mid- 2010s, CY Leung, the then Hong Kong Chief Executive, moved a proposal to allow building residential housing on country park land. Paul’s team created a communication campaign to


“Save Our Country Parks”. They put together a marketing plan to bring people together, get media attention and support/funding from green groups, hikers and other pressure groups on social media.


From there on, this format became a model for all our subsequent campaigns. The result was that the project of building on country park land was hit with HK public’s overwhelming disapproval. By that time, Carrie Lam came in as the Chief Executive with a promise she would not touch the Country Parks. All this fighting took about 10 years, Paul recollects.

In Pic: During the Save our Country Park Campaign


At the moment, among other things Paul is working to raise public opinion against the plan of HKU to build a 43,000 sq.m. complex on the green belt site between 3 Sassoon Road and Ebenezer School of which 8,270 sqm will be a laboratory site for animal testing. Paul started a petition this summer to counter this plan for obvious reasons including the fact that the development on the proposed “green belt” site is technically challenging and very costly. Additionally, agreement on using this green belt site for development has yet to be considered by the Town Planning Board; and, finally, residents near the site including HKU and Queen Mary Hospital staff have identified and proposed alternative sites which should be studied.


In Pic: Building support against the Sassoon Road HKU Lab


What is his message to our readers, we ask Paul? “Simple again. If you have an idea which will improve by even the slightest bit your quality of life, don’t wait for somebody else to do it because it might never happen. Improve stuff by yourself and take initiative. If you see garbage, bend over pick it up.”


Very simply and clearly put by a Hong Kong loving resident.


Because this story started from there before he was categorized as a sustainability activist or a Hong Kong politician.

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