Life satisfaction in crowded urban environment


Chan, Ying Keung

TitleLife satisfaction in crowded urban environment
PublisherSocial Research Center, the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Publication DateApril, 1978

Crowding stress


Social conditions

Abstract/ Concluding Remarks:

Hong Kong is an extremely crowded metropolis, available lands in inner-city areas around the harbour for domestic or industrial uses had long been exhausted. In view of the situation, the government has gradually begun to give up the laissez-faire policy towards the use of land i n the 1950s, planned layouts have been imposed on further urban development, large scale reclamations have been carried out, and new towns have been developed in the New Territories. The population in certain older urban areas (e.g. Central, Sheung Wan, Tsim Sha Tsui, Yau Ma Tei, etc.) has slightly decreased; however, the problems of overconcentration of population in urban areas, housing deficiency, and lack of space for further development remain unsolved. In 1976, there were still 274,427 squatters in Hong Kong (Hong Kong, 1977). Public housing estates, which provide residence for nearly 2 million people in·1977, allow only a per capita living space of 35 square feet for their dwellers (in old type Mark I and II resettlement estate, only 24 square feet). And new towns in Hong Kong are also all of considerable large size in terms of population, and high population density and high degree of overcrowding are being observed (Chan 1973).


It is commonly agreed that high density and crowding produce negative effects on animals, but there is no substantial evidence that high density and crowding produce consistently negative effects on humans (Freedman, 1973). Various studies, whether of the survey, observational or experimental type, have come to different conclusions. Some argue that population density and crowding do have effects on human health, social adaptation and may even produce pathological behaviour in man. (Griffitt and Veitch, 1971; Galle, et al.,1972; Levy and Herzog, 1974; McCarthy, et al., 1975; Roncek, 1975; Schmitt,1975), while others argue otherwise (Schmitt, 1963; Mitchell, 1971; Freedman, et al., 1972; Baldassare, 1975; Millar, 1976; Booth and Cowell, 1976).


The findings of the present study do not contradict those of previous studies bused on Hong Kong data. Our study reveals that both the effects of area population density and per capita living space in the household on individual life satisfaction are nearly negligible. In sum, all these studies tend to confirm that the crowded living environment produces little or no effect on the people of Hong Kong. But why?


Individual life satisfaction is a function of the extent of consistency or discrepancy between valued goals and actual achievement. The less the discrepancy between goals and achievement, the more is the individual satisfied. Economic well-being, good education and better housing, etc. are some of the valued goals of the Hong Kong people. Hong Kong has emerged as a world centre of trade and industry; and in many areas of life, such as economic opportunities, housing, public services, and utilities, significant improvement has been made in the past two decades. It is understandable why only 12% of the respondents, unlike the findings of Mitchell's study in 1967-68 (33%), are not satisfied with life as a whole. (Leo and Chan, in press).


More living space is surely also a valued goal of the Hong Kong people. Actually, the Survey data show that 36% of the respondents are not satisfied with their living space at present. But the people’s awareness of the fact that Hong Kong is lacking space for further expansion may reduce the unhappy feeling even if the valued goals of living in low density, more spacious environment cannot be achieved.


Furthermore, the urban dwellers in Hong Kong are long used to live in such an environment. High density and limited space do not make them feel “surrounded by a lot of people is not enjoyable", “the number of people in Hong Kong is too many and has effect on one’s daily life", or even feel "being surrounded by too many people". The limited space in the household does not force the people to spend more time outside, and the high population density does not keep the individual away from recreations in public open space (see table 3). These all help to explain why life satisfaction is not being affected by high density and limited space in Hong Kong.


However, we must not neglect that in this urban community, limited space is associated with other sources of dissatisfaction with life, such as low socioeconomic status, poor education, poor physical conditions and facilities, lack of safety, etc. It may not be easy to solve the problem of overcrowding in urban Hong Kong, but at least, to make people more satisfied with life, the authority should continue to explore ways through which the housing/environmental conditions, particularly in areas of lower socioeconomic status, can be ameliorated.


The finding that "high density and limited living space have only minor or negligible effect on individual life satisfaction” does not imply that the problem of overcrowding can be ignored when planning for future development. It is difficult to set any standard for the private sector, but it is not impossible to improve the present standard of 35 square feet per person in public housing estates. Secondly, at present the population density in lower class residential (private housing) areas is generally higher than that set for public housing estates, because certain proportion of space has been reserved for communal usage in the latter. And we do not see any reason why similar planning standard cannot be applied to areas for the development of private housing for lower or lower-middle class people so that the congested condition of private, lower class residences can partly be improved. Furthermore, to deal with overconcentration of population in inner-city areas, Hong Kong should speed up the development of new towns in the New Territories. And the authority, besides concerning itself with building the physical environment, should also pay more attention to the social structures, institutions, culture and subcultures when planning for the development of new urban communities. So the people may feel more happy to move from the old urban areas into a new town.

NoteBibliography: p. 17-19
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