Mass Transit Railway, Transit-Oriented Development and Spatial Justice: The Competition for Prime Residential Locations in Hong Kong since the 1980s

By He, Sylvia Y.; Tao, Sui et al. | The Town Planning Review, September 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Mass Transit Railway, Transit-Oriented Development and Spatial Justice: The Competition for Prime Residential Locations in Hong Kong since the 1980s


He, Sylvia Y., Tao, Sui, Hou, Yuting, Jiang, Wenhua, The Town Planning Review


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Introduction

It has been argued that investment in transport infrastructure has a multitude of neighbourhood impacts (Geurs et al., 2009; Won et al., 2015). Among these, the ability of transport infrastructure to improve accessibility and stimulate local economic development has received particular attention (Cervero, 2009; Mohammad et al., 2013). New transport infrastructure investment improves accessibility for nearby areas (Cervero, 2009; Delmelle and Casas, 2012). Such improvements can cause major changes to the neighbourhood and to the socio-demographic characteristics of its residents (Olaru et al., 2011; Foth et al., 2013).

Stimulating the local land market through improving accessibility to other places has been identified as a key neighbourhood effect of public transport (Duncan, 2011; Mohammad et al., 2013). Extensive literature has linked increasing property prices with public transport infrastructure projects (e.g Bowes and Ihlanfeldt, 2001; Du and Mulley, 2006; Bartholomew and Ewing, 2011; Sun et al., 2015). By lifting land and property values in adjacent areas, public transport investment may also elicit other neighbourhood change, particularly through gentrification, which compels the low-income population to reside in less costly, yet more isolated, locations (Kahn, 2007; Revington, 2015).

Such spatial injustice is also more likely to be felt within the context of transitoriented development (TOD) (Knowles, 2012; Ratner and Goetz, 2013). TOD primarily involves the concentration of high-density development of housing, employment and other public facilities around transit stations (Cervero, 1998; Knowles, 2012; Ratner and Goetz, 2013). Given this, it has been argued that TOD has the potential to generate an urban form characterised by walkable, compact and mixed-use neighbourhoods, backed with good transit connectivity (Cervero, 2006; Curtis et al., 2009). Some well-known examples of TOD include Copenhagen (Denmark), Stockholm (Sweden), Curitiba (Brazil), Singapore and Hong Kong (Cervero, 1998).

Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is known as one of the most successful public transport systems in the world. In a city of over seven million people, the MTR system enjoys a daily ridership of over 5.5 million passenger trips. This level of ridership is among the highest across all motorised transport modes in Hong Kong (Transport Department, 2014; MTR Corporation Limited, 2016). MTR is also one of the few transit systems in the world that has managed to operate without relying on subsidies from the government (Cervero, 1998; Cervero and Murakami, 2009). The success of MTR has in large part been attributed to its unique 'rail-plus-property' (R+P) model. The key feature of this business model is the pursuit of synchronised development between the rail transit station and adjacent land (Tang et al., 2004). It integrates urban land development into the planning and development of a rail transit service, and, by doing so, ensures stable revenue and captive ridership for the MTR (Tang et al., 2004; Cervero and Murakami, 2009).

While widely acclaimed, Hong Kong's MTR has also been under scrutiny in the urban (re)development context as being a catalyst for neighbourhood gentrification. Like other TOD projects, MTR projects operating under the R+P model have driven up the value of adjacent land (Hong, 1998), which creates a land market that potentially encourages more private residential development than public development (Tang et al., 2004). Given this, the impact of MTR on the low-income community, particularly in terms of its potential to trigger gentrification and an inequitable spatial distribution of accessibility, is subject to debate. As a backbone of Hong Kong's public transport system, whether MTR's development is associated with transit-induced gentrification and the loss of prime locations for public housing estates has never been examined. …

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