Sustainability of Housing

What of the ‘sustainability’ qualities of housing in Hong Kong? From an environmental point of view, it exemplifies an extreme example of the ‘compact city’ form of urbanism (Jenks et al. 1996), housing many people on a small land area with a relatively high standard of living, low car- dependence and high reliance on mass transit. Newman and Kenworthy (1999) highlighted the low level of fossil fuel consumption of Hong Kong and similar cities. The build quality of housing is good and there are relatively few cases of people living in very bad housing conditions (LTHS, pp. 22—26). Public and private housing estates are typically well provided with local services and public transport access to wider services and opportunities is good. Crime and security are not particularly problematic.

A somewhat more negative picture arises from the affordability issue and the associated relatively low space standards enjoyed by typical households. Very few households have the opportunity to enjoy the environment and opportunities for informal outdoor play, recreation and socialisation afforded by more suburban forms of single family housing or low-rise medium density housing, which have been shown by research elsewhere (e.g. Bramley et al. 2009) to be valued and to contribute to ‘community’ aspects of social sustainability.

Social mix at neighbourhood scale is argued by some to be a key component of social sustainability, on grounds of both equity and social cohesion. Hong Kong’s traditional form and pattern of development tended to be associated with a fair degree of mix at this area scale, if not so much within blocks. Recently, there has been some concern about the proliferation of ‘gated communities’ (La Grange 2014) as well as about forms of development which undermine the common shared public realm by creating semi-private spaces of shopping malls and service/recreation facilities associated with socially exclusive housing schemes (e.g. the so-called podium developments). The latter are often blamed on the development activities of the MTR organisation. Social mix does not appear to have been particularly significant as a policy goal. Nevertheless, it is interesting that in the late-1990s and early 2000s there were versions of the Home Ownership Scheme that operated as ‘quotas’ on private developments and private regeneration schemes (PSPS and MDPS schemes, the former accounting for nearly 100,000 units), before the scheme was suspended in 2002. This approach shows clear parallels with the ‘Section 106’ planning targets and agreements approach in England in this period.

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