Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

World-City Formation under an Executive-Led Government: The Politics of Harbour Reclamation in Hong Kong

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

World-City Formation under an Executive-Led Government: The Politics of Harbour Reclamation in Hong Kong

Article excerpt

Controversies over Central Harbour reclamation have beset Hong Kong for over a decade. Recent efforts in Central Harbour reclamation by the executive-led government to provide more land for economic and infrastructure development to boost Hong Kong's status as Asia's world city have met strong objections from different sectors of the population as they demand zero or minimum reclamation, greater accessibility to the waterfront and better quality of life for all. The unfolding of the case reveals that because of the entrenched institutional set up and resource allocation mechanisms in the administration, the power play between the two contending rationalities (for and against harbour reclamation) tilts in favour of the government, despite the fact that the business sector is collectively opposed to further reclamation and local organisations have proactively sought alternative ways of re-imagining the harbourfront. The case allows for a contextual analysis of the politics of world-city formation in a mode of governance dominated by an executive-led government and its dynamic relationships with a fledgling political community 'attempting' to 'reclaim' their rights in city building and place making.

Hong Kong has a long history of creating urban land by reclamation from the sea and selling the reclaimed land to boost the government's coffers (Ng and Cook, 1997). Since 1886, 67 square kilometres of land have been reclaimed which is equal to 25.6 per cent of the built-up area in Hong Kong (GISD, 2004). Figure 1 shows the extent of reclamation in Hong Kong and it can be seen that the Central Business District (CBD) is largely built on reclaimed land. Hence, it is not an overstatement to argue that Hong Kong's evolution into an international financial centre has been facilitated by successive phases of reclamation in Victoria Harbour. However, this once ingenious strategy of increasing land supply through 'removing mountains to fill up the sea' to accommodate economic and urban growth has been questioned since the 19805. \Yhile the government wants more reclamation to provide the necessary land at the heart of the harbour to build Asia's world city, an emerging 'civil society' is trying to 'reclaim' its 'political' rights to stop this trend and demand better planning and design of the harbourfront. This paper aims to scrutinise more closely this socially and politically divisive conflict through the theoretical lens of the 'world city vs great city' debates (Ng and Hills, 2003), the state-civil society nexus (Amirahmadi and Gladstone, 1996), modes and capacity of governance (DiGaetano and Strom, 2003; Healey et al., 2002), and the possible roles planning plays in the life cycle of participatory democracy (Hester, 2005).

Following the theoretical discussions, the paper reviews the mode of governance in Hong Kong. Then, the government's efforts to further reclaim land in the central harbour area are contrasted with the aspirations of the community, including business interests, for a quality waterfront without reclamation. The next section examines the experiment of the Harbourfront Enhancement Committee, a tripartite partnership of the government, the business sector and civil society set up by the government to 'enhance' the waterfront. The last section discusses how the case highlights the complex play of power in world-city formation under the unique mode of governance in Hong Kong.

The politics of world-city formation: visions, transitions and governance

World cities are the command posts of the global economy (Clark, 1996), a status aspired to by many cities, especially those in emerging and expanding economies (Ng and Hills, 2000; Olds and Yeung, 2004; Wang, C. H., 2003; Wang,J. H. 2004; Wei and Jia, 2003). The term world city was first coined by Patrick Geddes in 1915, who, while identifying these as cities expanding into 'new and vaster groupings or conurbations', also warned that 'the intersocial struggle for existence' required a vision Of opening possibilities, of social betterment and uplift of folk, work, and place together' (Geddes, 1915, 393, 402). …

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