Hong Kong (1841-1997) / No Democracy, No Public Space

Due to the historical position of Hong Kong in relation to Britain and China, the urban planning of Hong Kong has to follow certain elementary proposition over the 150 colonial period, as follows: “(1) The English rule of law has been the central discourse to which all others were subsumed. (2)All Land has been be de facto nationalized. (3)Democratic politics have not prevailed i.e. universal franchise. ” (Cuthbert and McKinnell, 1997, p. 296)

It means that there is no democratic structure in the city and all lands belong to China. The urban design was also used as a method of social control by the British government. Therefore, in the Town Planning Ordinance (TPO), the planning legislation is only required to satisfy the government. Since 1842, the local Chinese people were not allowed to gather in public spaces such as Statue Square. Before World War II, in 1844, the square at the Possession Point in Sai was converted into a bazaar for commercial use. In 1887, the Royal Square only allowed royal and military functions to take place. In the 1950s, the urban planning approach initiated by Sir Patrick Abercrombie was mainly focusing on the improvement of infrastructure, military establishments and development of new towns. All these were threat to the existence or the preservation of public spaces that symbolized civic right and allowed spaces for gathering or protest. However, with the gradual cleansing up of public spaces, space for protest was not eliminated but found their new home on the street.

Here showing pedestrian circulation developed over time in Central to link high-end shopping malls with hotel and corporate lobbies. The public space becomes commercial space.

Photograph of Pages from the book of “Cities Without Ground: A Hong Kong Guidebook” by Adam Frampton, Jonathan D Solomon, Clara Wong, Courtesy of ORO Editions. © ORO Editions




1) LO, K.M. (2013) A Critical Study of the Public Space in Hong Kong. MCS symposium. [Online] Available from: http://www.ln.edu.hk/cultural/programmes/MCS/Symp%2013/S1P2.pdf. [Accessed:18th December 2014].

2) Cuthbert, A.R., McKinnell, K.G., (1997) Ambiguous space, ambiguous rights – Corporate power and social control in Hong Kong. Vol. 14, No. 5, pp. 295-311. Elsevier Science Ltd.

3) Xue, Q.L., Manuel, K.K., (2001) The Quest for Better Public Space: A Critical Review of Urban Hong Kong. In Pu, M. (eds.). Public Places in Asia Pacific Cities: Current Issues and Strategies. Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

1 Comment on “Hong Kong (1841-1997) / No Democracy, No Public Space

  1. Looking into the relationship between democracy and public space, I think there are also some problems behind it, for example the idea of “public space” perceived by the British Colonial Government and the Hong Kong Government, by the people who in charge in the town planning in the two governments, and maybe also the transition of location of public space during 2 different period.

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