Issue 14, February 2008

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Think Big . Think Impact . Think Global - RGC Chair Urges Academics
Predicting the Influence of
Crosswinds on Vehicles
and Cable Bridges
Addressing the Injustice of Space and Housing
Globalisation of Popular Culture
Translations Bring Gao Xingjian's Work to Broader Audience
Best Practice for Project Briefings
New Measurement Aids Understanding of Cement Hydration

Dr. Wing-Shing Tang, Associate Professor, Department of Geography at Hong Kong Baptist University, believes there is a lack of accountability in Hong Kong when it comes to the urban poor.

"We talk about the sort of economy we want, but too often we ignore the plight of the urban poor especially in the area of housing," he says.

Dr. Tang's study of Power, Space and Housing of the Urban Poor in Hong Kong, focused initially on the Tsuen Wan Seven Street Redevelopment Project. He says his team quickly realised that the problem of appropriate compensation and replacement housing for the urban poor is widespread. Similar studies are now underway in the Wanchai and Kwun Tong areas.

"Our intention was to discover just what the urban poor get when urban redevelopment takes place in their neighbourhood. Our findings show that at the moment it is difficult for the urban poor to challenge the rules of the game to gain back their rights to appropriate housing.

"In Hong Kong, Government and developers alike see redevelopment as a norm. Anyone blocking development plans is too often seen as blocking society's progress."

Dr. Tang says that in Hong Kong's rush to redevelop, the urban poor are not enjoying improved housing conditions.

In the case of the Tsuen Wan study, most residents were working class elderly. Their fight against displacement was an uphill battle against official government institutions which failed to deliver shelters and legislative and district councillors who appeared more concerned with the interest of property owners and developers and technical issues associated with the environment. A more traditional NGO working in the area, reduced the issues of the rights to the city to that of poverty.

"As a result, the neighbourhood was divided and the tenants encountered contradictory politics. The outcome of these struggles was disappointing… only a handful of tenants finally reclaimed their housing rights."

Some urban poor in the Tsuen Wan case study improved their housing conditions and in most cases, people received offers of some cash compensation. However, they still found it difficult to actually improve their housing conditions.

"On the face of it, it may appear they have received compensation, but in reality, these people have suffered from displacement in many ways, including the denial of the rights to housing.

Dr. Tang says his findings imply that Hong Kong is undergoing a new wave of redevelopment but unless the resulting contradictions and inequities are dealt with appropriately, the "space of hope for the urban poor remains slim."

The answer, Dr. Tang says, is for Hong Kong to begin a broad spectrum debate on its urban future.

"We need to look at the present regime and decide whether this is the right way to go… or is there another way that will better ensure social justice and the rights of the city. Everyone here has the right to live and to live with civic pride. The urban poor have contributed to the city's prosperity; we need to recognise their contribution and the fact that they too have rights to our city."

Dr. Tang and his team are now assisting the Wanchai District Council to look at issues the Tsuen Wan study has raised.

Dr. Tang Wing Shing
Department of Geography
Hong Kong Baptist University