The development of new towns in Hong Kong


Chan, Ying Keung

TitleThe development of new towns in Hong Kong
PublisherSocial Research Center, the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Publication DateDecember, 1977

City planning

Abstract/ Concluding Remarks:Through close examination of the development of new towns, we can see that besides the task of physical planning, the government's involvement in building up a new urban area is to 'some extent limited. Many deficiencies prevailing in older urban areas - such as overcrowding, high building density, lack of environmental beauty, traffic congestion, shortage of suitable site for certain institutions, insufficient supply of services and facilities also exist in new towns.

To deal with overconcentration in large cities, the two most propagated theories are suggesting the erection of high-rise buildings or the development of satellite towns (Hongladarom, 1972). However, in Hong Kong, it is not the question of choice between high-rise buildings in central urban areas and satellite towns, but at the same time, high-rise buildings in inner-city and new towns with unusual features - high-density and proximity to industrial locations and residences, are developed.
Actually, patterns adopted so far can be justified by (1) within such a limited surface of about 1,000 sq. km., land is too valuable and it-is not possible to develop dispersed suburban residential areas; (2) industrial establishment should be city-oriented or close to existing urban areas, otherwise, enormous investment would be required for transportation facilities and other public utilities; (3) what have to be developed as first priority would be housing for lower class population, rather than upper class residences located in a “green belt”; (4) to minimize the commuting problem, housing for workers would best be located close to factories; (5) high-density urban development is possible since “….. Hong Kong has had the advantage of taking a large agrarian based immigrant population and converting it into an urban multi-storey densely-packed community. The population had little preconception of what urban life meant or would mean and had adapted to whatever it found". (Prescott, 1971) .

Though the dual-purpose of providing housing and industrial sites have been attained, the physical and social infrastructures of new towns are still far from satisfactory. For example, even fairly enough jobs have been created in the vicinity, they do not necessarily have met the need of the new town residents; therefore large scale commuting cannot be avoided. While the plan for industrial development in a new town should provide considerable occupational opportunities for blue-collar production workers, sufficient opportunities for white collar workers should also be provided for residents of different occupational interests. Of course, the latter type of work would have to stand competition with similar opportunities available in the city. While there would always be some residents of the new town, who for various reasons want to or have to work in the city, some minimum variety of job opportunities - some of which may have to be highly comparable in rewards with those in the city - would be necessary in order to satisfy a fairly heterogeneous working population in the new town. This would also have favourable implications for reducing the load on the transportation system between the new towns and the inner-city.

In the case of Kwun Tong, community services and facilities provided have been inadequate, either because of limited government involvement or the provision of such services and facilities was not actively considered until urgent needs had been created (Chan, Y.K., 1973). That is, planners must consider, for other new towns, whether provision of services and facilities, could keep pace with the rapid population influx. And it is also necessary to examine deliberately, whether the proposed services and facilities would in fact serve their purposes, whether there might be differences in the pattern of use among different types of residents, and whether the needs of some particular groups of residents might have been totally neglected. If too much attention is paid to the physical and quantitative aspects of community services and facilities, it may turn out that some of them are ill-used or under-used while certain other needs remain unsatisfied.

Therefore, instead of talking about "balanced community" and "self-containment", in general terms, the plan must be more specific. What need to be "balanced" and what need to be "self-sufficient"? Obviously, as a minimum, the working population and the non-working population must be balanced and those urgently needed facilities and services (e.g., hospitals, schools, clinics, law-enforcement agencies) must be self-sufficient. A list of these specific items of "balance" and "self-containment" must be carefully spelled out as the relatively feasible goals for the plan to achieve.

Moreover, planned social intervention is particularly necessary in the early stage of the implementation of the new town plan. This planned social intervention should aim at mobilizing the new residents to form informal and semi-formal networks of interpersonal relationships, and at coordinating these networks. These networks can serve both the expressive function of catering to the psychological and social needs of the residents, and the instrumental functions of social welfare provision, social control, cooperative actions and collective decision-making.

In many town planning cases, "the profession of planning sees itself as planning for the community, but deals with only a portion of that community, and city planning has concerned itself pri.mari1y with buildings and the physical environment, and only secondarily with the people who make use that environment. Moreover, it sometimes even pays no attention to the social structures, institutions, culture and subcultures; the people are seen only as occupants of dwellings, offices, factories and moving vehicles. Not much attention has been paid to how they use these facilities; the people are little more than artifacts.” (Gans, 1972). That is also a rather appropriate description of the philosophy of the planning authority in Hong Kong. It cannot be denied that in societies undergoing rapid social change, social objectives become very difficult if not impossible to define, let alone to quantify with relatively clear directions for planning. That being the case, any attempt to strengthen and coordinate "community" efforts in dealing with emergent social issues, either during the planning process or after the new town has come into being, will remain highly problematic. However, the planners should listen to the people, investigate and help the people and to solve their problems instead of just imposing professional expertise and values on the people assuming that these former squatters and rural dwellers are totally ignorant of what life in a new urban area should be.
NoteBibliography: p. 26-27
Images Preview
The development of new towns in Hong Kong (PDF)2.92 MB