Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Emergence of a Collaborative Approach Challenges Hong Kong's Urban Planning Model

Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Emergence of a Collaborative Approach Challenges Hong Kong's Urban Planning Model

Article excerpt

Hong Kong has undergone profound changes in recent decades.0' In the political sphere, the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997 under Deng Xiaoping's "one country, two systems" formula. In the economic sphere, ever since China's reform and opening of the late 1970s and more so since the handover, Hong Kong has become increasingly linked to its hinterland in the Pearl River Delta, with which it is trying to build a megaregion of 40 million inhabitants. Hong Kong's claim to be a world city depends on a coalition of actors from the government and the business lobby developing urban policies purporting to foster economic competitiveness.

However, Hong Kong's urban planning is being transformed with the emergence of civil society,(2) and of several community-based movements challenging the policies preferred by the coalition that dominates planning forums. This article aims to study the extent and nature of, as well as the alternatives emerging from, this challenge, examining the possibility of a turn towards a collaborative approach to urban planning, incorporating alternative strategies.

In order to do so, this article will consider the reasons for the formation of a coalition favouring the growth and then the development of external and internal resistance to it, seeking to formulate new alternatives. The concluding portion will dwell on the significance of such evolutions with regard to the paradigmatic change towards the collaborative approach to sustainable urban planning and development in Hong Kong politics.

The growtK coalition of government and private actors

Incomplete democratic mechanisms

Hong Kong, which became a British colony in 1841, was handed back to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, but remains set apart from the rest of the People's Republic. Its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, governs the political setup characterised by the "one country, two systems" principle. It allows the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) to keep its judicial and political systems, its currency and immigration laws intact until 2047, i.e., for 50 years after the transfer of sovereignty.

The SAR's ruling executive council is headed by a Chief Executive enjoying a five-year term in office. Tung Cheehwa held the post between 1997 and 2005. He was replaced by Donald Tsang, who had headed the civil service and had previously held senior posts in the colonial administration. The government is made up of 14 ministers answering to the Chief Executive. The Legislative Council, which adopts laws but has no control over the executive, is made up of 60 members, half of them elected by popular vote in geographical constituencies and the others chosen throu^i sectoral functional constituencies.<3)

Thus, while Hong Kong aspires to be a "world city"(4) like New York or Tokyo, it differs greatly from those competitors. It still lacks real universal suffrage, which some regard as an obstacle to attaining global city status. There has been much debate on this issue, and on 29 December 2007, the Chinese authorities announced that the Chief Executive would be elected through universal suffrage in 2017 and the legislature in 2020.

A coalition between the political elite and businesses

At the outset it may be noted that Hong Kong's territory is characterised by its small size and the extent of natural landscape dominated by hills and slopes. Just 20 percent of the territory is built up, and more than 38 percent is protected by the Country Parks Ordinance. There are two main forms of habitation in Hong Kong: high density areas around Victoria Harbour and newly developed areas on the one hand, and low density villages and semi-urban areas on the other. Another distinguishing feature of Hong Kong is the mode of ownership and management of land area. The government owns all the land, with the exception of the plot on which St John's Cathedral stands, and grants leases for certain periods of time. …

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