Hong Kong Neighbourhoods - a 'Living cities' perspective

Grosvenor Asia Pacific takes a closer look at Hong Kong's neighbourhoods and the views of their residents.

17th October 2016

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There is a popular apocryphal story of Indian origin of the blind man and the elephant. Six blind men are invited to feel an elephant in order to ascertain its fundamental qualities and provide a description. Each of the blind men feels a different part of the elephant – the side, the trunk, the tusk, the leg, the ear and the tail. As each is asked his opinion, there is huge diversity. The first concludes that the elephant is like a wall, the second a snake, the third a spear, the fourth a tree, the fifth a fan and the sixth a rope, relating to the part of the elephant they touched.

In some ways, a city can be like this as well. While we all have our own concept of a given city, we actually typically live and work in a very small part of that city, and our perception of it is driven by both the parts (neighbourhoods) we most frequently experience and our own backgrounds (ethnicity, demographics, wealth, etc).

Hong Kong is a large, diverse and hugely complex city. When asked ‘what is Hong Kong like?’, the answer is very much shaped by the ‘part of the elephant you touch’. Put another way, the view of a middle-aged Western white-collar worker with an office in Central and a flat in the affluent Mid-levels district is going to be very different from an ethnically Chinese retiree living in public housing in further afield Shatin.

Grosvenor is a group that is passionate about cities, and given our ‘Living cities’ philosophy, we are committed to understanding better and positively influencing the cities in which we invest. Neighbourhoods are where people live, work, and play. So to understand Hong Kong better, we have been studying Hong Kong’s neighbourhoods to ascertain how they function, differ and meet the needs of Hong Kong people.

To do this we have first wrestled with the thorny question of what a neighbourhood actually is, and then developed an approach to help define Hong Kong’s neighbourhoods based on a combination of planning and constituency areas and individual estates.  Through this logic we have classified seven distinct though complementary types of neighbourhood in the city:‘Heartland’, ‘Historic’, ‘Prestige’, ‘Ambient’, ‘Transitional’, ‘Networked’ and ‘Vibrant’.  These seven types of neighbourhood are spread across approximately 500-600 different neighbourhoods, all reflecting very different physical, cultural and socio-cultural characteristics; a significant characteristic of Hong Kong as a city.

From there we have sought to gauge general satisfaction of the Hong Kong population in their neighbourhoods, the factors they most value in neighbourhoods, the positive factors that exist and the things they wish were improved. For this research we collaborated with the University of Hong Kong’s Public Opinion Programme to gauge a large (1000+)  sample of Cantonese speaking residents, representing every Hong Kong district and over 300 individual Constituency areas (what we deemed a suitable neighbourhood proxy).

This survey found that:

  • 59% of respondents think Hong Kong provides a good quality of life, with 30.2% of respondents noting ‘good transportation systems’, 20.2% ‘safety & security’, and 19.9% ‘community facilities’ – the most emphasised factors.
  • 72% of Hong Kong people were either satisfied or very satisfied with the neighbourhood in which they lived.
  • ‘Transportation’ and ‘easy access to living necessities’ were the most significant factors for why residents liked their neighbourhoods, mentioned in 42.1% and 19.5% of responses respectively.
  • The most valued factors when choosing a neighbourhood to live were ‘safety & security’, ‘good air quality’, ‘transportation’, ‘peace & quiet’, and ‘easy access to living necessities’, followed by ‘green environment’ and ‘well-designed built environment’.
  • The attributes people most wanted to improve were ‘transportation’, mentioned in 21.6% of responses, and ‘community facilities’, mentioned in 15.4% of responses.

The research showed a number of interesting results. First and foremost, Hong Kong people are generally positive that the city offers good quality of life, though concerns about governance, population density, and property prices persist.

Hong Kong's neighbourhoods also score well on providing good transportation, community facilities and easy accessibility to daily necessities. Residents still wish to see improvement on transportation – action which is being undertaken to a large degree already – and more community facilities.

One particularly interesting observation to Grosvenor as a property company was the disparity we found between how important people consider a well-designed built environment, and the actual quality of built environment they believe their neighbourhoods contain.  This suggests a real appetite for thoughtful, high-quality and well-executed design, something which will continue to be a significant focus of Grosvenor Asia Pacific as we move forward.

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