• Fri
  • Jul 25, 2014
  • Updated: 11:59pm
CommentInsight & Opinion

Something has to give amid gentrification of Hong Kong

Bernard Chan says Hong Kong must balance the needs of rich and poor

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 April, 2014, 3:14am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 April, 2014, 3:14am

The media have recently been covering big changes in a city I know well: San Francisco. The Silicon Valley tech boom has attracted large numbers of highly paid newcomers. Rents have spiralled out of reach for existing residents, some of whom have responded by mounting protests. Traditional businesses and cultural activities are being driven out by high-end brands.

People are moving into less desirable neighbourhoods, and this is driving poorer families even further out.

Gentrification seems to be taking off in the world's most prosperous urban centres. In New York and London, for example, people are seeking to move further out, to areas like Brooklyn and the docklands where rents are lower, again driving out local residents and businesses.

This all leaves a very serious question in Hong Kong: where will the less well-off go?

In Hong Kong, we associate this trend with the huge influx of mainland shoppers, which has caused a major expansion of designer and luxury stores. Rising rents have caused the closure of much-loved outlets catering to local residents. However, the impact may prove temporary.

In the longer term, our gentrification may well be more like that in San Francisco and other cities. We can expect continued inflows of bankers, for example, from the mainland, Asia and the rest of the world. Other professionals will probably come as new high-value activities develop, like creative industries, or indeed technology. More districts like Kennedy Town will become trendy and less affordable, and more dilapidated blocks in areas like Sham Shui Po will be targeted for redevelopment.

This is not new. The reason cities have skyscrapers in the centre is because land prices go up there as the economy grows. There is bound to be spillover into once-poorer areas nearby over the years.

But global trends are adding to the effect. Globalisation has facilitated greater mobility of people and their fortunes. Chinese, Russian, Middle Eastern and other Asian wealth has grown, and the new rich want to diversify their holdings. Some of it might go into art and yachts, but a lot goes into real estate. Hong Kong, like Vancouver and California, has seen a lot of mainland Chinese wealth going into property.

At the same time, many cities have clearly lagged behind in expanding their housing stock. We think of this as a Hong Kong problem, but home building has not kept up with population growth in many centres on the east and west coasts of the US, the south of England and other areas. High liquidity and low returns in other investments have further pushed housing prices up.

Most of all, globalisation goes with a widening gap between rich and poor, and the way people with certain education and skills are accumulating a greater share of wealth. If the better-off cluster in particular cities, it is easy to see how gentrification of poorer neighbourhoods can follow.

As a successful city, our population and physical area are likely to grow along with the economy. Our definition of "downtown" will expand, and something will have to give. It is hard to see how we can preserve whole ageing neighbourhoods in the urban area, or keep every cheap noodle place. Indeed, as in San Francisco, some older residents are probably looking forward to a windfall when they sell their homes in newly fashionable neighbourhoods.

This all leaves a very serious question in Hong Kong, with its limited space: where will the less well-off go? We need to earmark sufficient space for public and subsidised homes and facilities.

People who say these things should have priority for space over high-end malls or luxury investment property probably have a good point. But people who automatically oppose all development everywhere need to be more realistic.

Bernard Chan is a member of the Executive Council. He chairs the Advisory Committee on Revitalisation of Historic Buildings

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This article is now closed to comments

XYZ
Is it beyond the wit of Executive Councillors like Mr. Chan to figure out a sensible combination of measures that would significantly increase the amount of land for residential development?
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Such steps would presumably include re-zoning, abolishing the small-house giveaway in the New Territories, development of Lamma, Lantau and the outlying islands, and phasing out the land premium system in favour of taxing projects over their lifetime.
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I don't pretend to be an expert, but surely our community should be having vigorous public debate on such measures, rather than fixating on Shanghai meetings, Filipino apologies and other meaningless trivia.
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Hong Kong is crying out for leadership on this and other critical quality-of-life issues. Based on this article, Mr. Chan is yet another hand-wringing empty suit full of beautiful words and no guts.
pslhk
A meaningful exposition
that should open the eye/mind of navel gazers
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Unlike SF, NY and all other cities mentioned in the discussion
a real border separates the city from the hinterland
Thru traffics are restricted to immigration and customs checkpoint
thus imposing practical limits on the city’s long term development
Optima planned under these constraints will obstruct future optima
when constraints are relaxed and time is on the side of relaxations
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Only three single-family houses survive in Western ML
The HKU VC residence, 41B CR and the long vacated Li family house in PS Rd
The “new” building next to LFH has recently been vacated
for redevelopment that most probably will include LFH
and the bungalow garages across the street
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A list of 20+story high-rises now under development
within a one-km diameter in WML:
Conduit Road 31, 53, 55
Po Shan Road 21, 23, 24, 26,
Kotewall Road 42-44
Babington Road 23
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Planners and developers decide the fate of the area's redevelopment
Neighborhood residents have no idea and no say whatsoever
ianson
Aimless drivel. What was said about gentrification? What connection was made between gentrification and this rich and poor balance concept? Simply trash writing. Why publish it?
Paradox314
The article makes a clear connection between gentrification and the resulting pressure upon housing for citizens from a lower economic background.
ianson, you must have some kind of an axe to grind, or else you don't know how to read and your comment is just trash.
johnyuan
New York City particularly of its Manhattan area began its gentrification as early as 80s. But the process is not purely a through train by the market force. It is a process checked by rules and regulations some of which can be hauled way back in history. There are rules to protect existing residents and renters. New housing developments are encouraged to set aside a percentage for lower income group with increase of floor area ratio. New York City remains a vibrant city that in part derives from maintaining a mix of different income groups.
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But as a city government, it takes on real laborious work to safeguard such mix. Real work is better than a racking ball in the long run.
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Hong Kong officials should understand New York City better using it (or SF) to march on gentrifying Hong Kong. The current urban renewal agency like its predecessor mainly represents the developers’ interest. Preservation of a culture including life style and buildings takes rule, regulation and law and not just an agency. Without them, they all disappear because the market place is too ruthless with a racking ball swinging.
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In Hong Kong, it is the developer who has to give. What is gone, gone forever.
 
 
 
 
 

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