Urban renewal can be a complicated and controversial endeavour, particularly in a city such as Hong Kong. Most people here live in densely populated high-rises, many of which have fallen into serious disrepair because of lax maintenance. All too often, hundreds of owners of small flats in a multi-storey building are unable to get their acts together to renovate or redevelop their properties. So it is ironic that when the Urban Renewal Authority steps in to buy up dilapidated blocks for redevelopment, it is often treated with derision by the owners. The problem lies in the way urban renewal has, until now, been implemented. The URA - and its predecessor, the now defunct land development corporation - is responsible for identifying run-down areas, devising redevelopment schemes, acquiring the properties concerned and handing them over to developers for redevelopment. The participation of developers is necessary as the URA receives only seed grants from the government and has to depend on developers' financial resources and professional expertise to carry out its projects. This approach, however, has given rise to the perception that the URA is acting as the bulldozer for developers, who stand to profit from pulling down old buildings. Even though compensation packages for owners and tenants are laid down by law, negotiations over the payouts are often protracted and acrimonious. In recent years, conservationists concerned about the disappearance of historic buildings and socially vibrant street life in old neighbourhoods have joined the chorus of opposition. Such opposition has persisted despite the authority's attempts to preserve old buildings with heritage value, often at huge costs that add to its financial burden. Now that all the redevelopment projects committed to by the land development corporation have been launched, the URA is seeking to revamp its mode of operation. As we report today, consideration is being given to letting residents decide the fate of the areas in which they live, rather than being dictated to. Instead of the authority foisting a scheme on people living in run-down areas, owners and residents would put forward proposals for consideration. The means of revitalisation could be renovation or redevelopment. After all, urban renewal is not a guaranteed means of ensuring that old buildings or districts, and the lives of the people living in them, can be revitalised. Hong Kong's biggest success story is perhaps the Lan Kwai Fong and SoHo districts, previously rundown areas on the fringes of Central that are now thriving nightlife areas. In theory as well as in practice, the proposed bottom-up approach should be less controversial than the current top-down one. Letting the community take the lead in how streets and districts are redeveloped or renovated moves in a more sustainable direction. Hong Kong's character will, in such circumstances, be more preserved. Putting in place a mechanism that allows stakeholders to truly have a voice will be challenging, as will be the task of balancing the conflict of interests among stakeholders, such as that of households living on the upper floors and shop owners and operators at the ground level. Nonetheless, the URA has to move in this direction. Only through citizens having a say in the evolution of their city can it develop in an organic and harmonious manner.