The current row over development proposals for the northeastern New Territories reflects a big gap in Hong Kong's planning system; that is, the lack of bottom-up, community-based planning.
The government might argue there has indeed been community planning through various engagement and consultation activities. This argument only reflects a poverty of knowledge about community-based planning.
Community-based urban planning is planner-facilitated urban planning with stakeholders at the district level.
Baseline studies identify community assets and issues; analyse strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats; and develop strategic development directions that build on strengths, overcome weaknesses, exploit opportunities and blunt threats. Why is there an absence of this kind of planning?
Many argue that colonial governments deliberately avoided it because they feared mobilisation on political grounds.
Others suspect that a pro-growth development regime would not tolerate territorially organised power bases that would hinder growth and flow of capital. Also, flawed strategies have survived for so long because of a lack of demand at the community level. This state of affairs is no longer acceptable.
Our city needs to carefully consider the development of community-based planning.
This will enable Hong Kong to build up capacities for appreciating community assets; understand issues from local perspectives; develop the capacity of various stakeholders to govern their communities; and learn to co-plan spaces collectively. It is important to meet the challenge to balance local needs with wider city, regional and indeed international considerations.
Hong Kong must allocate resources for community-based planning. It will be a good investment because it will allow members of the community to learn and care for their neighbourhoods, and understand the complexities of urban issues.
People trained in this process will become more considerate, more ready to appreciate the complexities of issues and to reach compromises.
This open and transparent local knowledge will form a powerful base to build sustainable societies, counteracting economic hegemonies and behind-closed-door power play. It will promote social justice and protect our fragile environment.
Ng Mee-kam, professor, department of geography and resource management, Chinese University