Research & Statement
Since the emergence of de-regulation policies in the past few decades, followed by the rise of neo-liberalism, architecture and urban design have been increasingly driven by global capital flows. As a consequence, the historical social role of architecture during modernism has been redefined into a commercial one that responds predominantly to market demands. In a pursuit to reclaim a critical approach that is more conscious of the needs of society, the Urban Politics Studio aims to map the complexity of urban power relations, and review the city through many lenses: that of a politician, economist, humanitarian, strategist, resident, activist or visitor. We will consider these different contexts as a series of design parameters. Through carefully unpacking the different desires and constraints, we will develop a critical and analytical approach to the design process. Using an ethnographic research methodology, we aim to gain understanding, discover new insights and (re)frame design opportunities.
MEGABLOCK CITY: The trampled street life in new town planning
Since the third generation of new towns in the early 1990s, the block to road / street ratio had been recorded as an increasing trend. Admittedly, the development of new towns is cohesively dependent on the investment of developers and tycoons as the revenue generator for the government. It is an ubiquitous phenomenon of gated community and podium conditions in the new towns like Tin Shui Wai, Tseung Kwan O and let alone Tung Chung Town Centre. The conditions had profoundly resulted in the marginalization and diminishment of street life. The street culture of Hong Kong’s old towns have fundamentally disappeared in the new town planning. The scale comparison of townscape was raging from old district Sham Shui Po, to mixed commercial centre Causeway Bay, to megablock city like Tung Chung. From the comparison, the spectrum of townscape could be positioned on the gradient from small, medium to extra large respectively. In spite of the difference in planning orientation, the population density was statistically approximate between old districts and new towns. Nevertheless, regarding the similarity in density level, the demand of low-culture and street life by the indigenous residents were spatially obliviated and politically omitted by the developers, planners and government.
THE DORMITORY TOWN: ‘Relocate First, Accommodate Second’
With the population growth, new town has long been a strategy dealing with the increasing residential demand. Stated in Policy Address 2014 to 2016, the prime course of Tung Chung Extension Area was the immediate relocation of population from major districts and immigration to alleviate the soaring density level. Overviewing the new town planning, most of their land has been dedicated to residential purpose, and so as Tung Chung East Extension Area. The new extension area, catering for an additional population of 118,000, has a total provision of 40,800 flats, in the ratio of 6:4 public-to-private distribution. Yet, the distribution of land, according to the zoning plan, is more-or-less a 5:5 ratio. It is then foreseeable that the building density of the public residential area would be much higher than that of the private residential area. In the governmental policy, it is known as a common strategy of ‘relocating the population first, accommodating the amenities second’. Such execution had resulted in the under providing capacity of civic infrastructure and local employment opportunity, Tung Chung was criticized as the infamous and dysfunctional dormitory town.
PRIVATIZED OPEN SPACE : Limited non-purpose space and possibilities
The Tung Chung East Extension Area has shown an attempt to integrate public open space into pedestrian roads, accounting for half of the overall open space. However, reviewing the different typologies of open space in Tung Chung, one must be aware of the inaccessibility and the arising privatized public space. The former lies in the left-over spaces, where was transformed into open spaces through greening, but it still does not address the problem of discontinuity; while certain namely public space has come under the management of private developers, with regulations and rules applied. The open space is then not as public as one assumed. The privatization of open space had confined people activities, accessibility and mobility within and out the gated communities and connected shopping malls.
LACKING PUBLIC AMENITIES: ‘Just Living, No Life’
Despite the establishment of Tung Chung New Town in 1999, the lack of public amenities and recreational infrastructure has never been alleviated over the past decade, and not to mention cultural infrastructure. Under the protocol of provisional capacity, the ratio of population to recreational infrastructure in Tung Chung is 43,000:1; and that of Tung Chung East Extension Area would be 40,000:1. Undoubtedly, one could foresee a minor improvement in terms of the provision of recreational infrastructure in the extension area, yet the ratio is still relatively low compared to the other developed new towns. Referencing both Tin Shui Wai and Shatin, the former has its ratio at 36,000:1, and the latter at 18,900:1. Such comparison has brought about the inadequate planning on recreational infrastructure, and let alone cultural infrastructure which is not even included in the zoning plan. One of the paradigms would be the missing public wet market in Tung Chung which underlines the correlation between absence of amenities and declining living quality.
CONCLUSION: Mitigate the Culture from Planning
By concluding the issues in Tung Chung, the predicament of the extension area is expectedly similar. One as a designer has to mitigate the problems during the planning stage before it is a done deal.
After the site analysis and the site visit, we consider that people who live in Tung Chung lack of their own pride and local identity. The reason factors can be regards as the point below:
Public space: The public parks in Tung Chung east have a low usage rate. It may be caused by the similar facilities without the theme in the park as well as far from the city center. Apart from that, the surrounding private housing estates already have clubhouses with complete and diversified facilities. Then, the public parks in Tung Chung east became no longer attractive. On the other hand, there are insufficient public spaces in Tung Chung West. The pocket parks between the buildings are the main recreational spaces for the neighbors. An uneven distribution of public space in existing Tung Chung was found. On the one hand the private residential estates, which are mainly located in Tung Chung East, are surrounded by the well-designed parks. On the other hand, the public residential estates, which are mainly located in Tung Chung West, are only surrounded by the pocket parks. After collecting the data of public space area and population in Tung Chung, the public space per resident of public and private housing could be calculated, which are 1.3m2 and 6.9m2. It showed the mismatch of public spaces in Tung Chung Town Planning. The resident is only living in there own part and lack of the social interaction with different groups of people.
Inadequacy of Cultural infrastructure: By studying the existing cultural facilities, it reveals that Tung Chung lacks the cultural facilities to attract people who live in other estates or districts to visit their area.
Walking distance: The increase in the walking distance reduces the willingness of the public to other estates. Even though the bus stop covers the main area of Tung Chung, the traveling time is still more than 20 mins. The inadequate cultural facilities also decline the frequency of people visiting other areas. Therefore, it creates the phenomenon that the people who live in different estates may rarely visit the other estate.
Podium: The population of Tung Chung increased rapidly as the infrastructure nearby got more developed. Residences’ building height, both increased directly proportional to the population increment in Tung Chung so as to cater to the housing demand of people. The podium is always the key element that distinguishes the building type, private or public, in Hong Kong. The podium was usually found in private residences, completed in the recent decades which elevated the residence at least 3 to 5 floors above the ground. The building height has climbed to the optimum level in the year 2004 and started to decrease gradually due to the advocation of lower development intensity from the government, to reduce urban island heat effect. However, this podium may create separated zoning of people who live there, the podium is only a straight elevated walkway and the residents who are not living on this podium town would not use that space which creates another segregation.
To conclude, insufficient cultural facilities and the existing podium type reduced the social interaction in Tung Chung, the uneven public space also decreased the frequency of use for the public.