Land shortage and tragedy of the commons in Hong Kong

Authors: Mee Kam Ng*, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Indigenous Peoples, Development
Keywords: Tragedy of the commons, land politics, urban planning
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 33
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


For 10 straight years, Hong Kong has topped the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Study as the most unaffordable housing market in the world as families have to save up to 20.8 years of their household income in order to afford a home. The culprit of this situation, the government argues, is land shortage and hence the TINA (There Is No Alternative) solution suggested by the state is reclaiming land from the sea. However, this paper argues that the government’s high-land price policy, together with a financial set-up that favours mega infrastructure development, have led to the tragedy of the commons not only for the marine ecology but also for extensive areas of land owned by the indigenous population in the rural New Territories. For a long period of time, the development potential of their land has been suppressed to sustain an image of severe land shortage in the urban areas.

Through archival review and interviews, this paper investigates how the government of Hong Kong has through urban planning and monopolisation of information successfully ‘suppressed’ the development potential of land owned by the indigenous villagers without their objection, and at the same time, managed to develop a hegemonic discourse on reclamation from the sea as the only logical and ingenious method to create land.

Deconstructing these double tragedies of the commons not only help us realise the underlying causes of Hong Kong’s housing crisis, it also points to other feasible spatial solutions for the city.

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