A geography of Hong Kong

A geography of Hong Kong

Book reviews development corporation represents the composite mind of a team of professionals of different disciplines within which technical ascendan...

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Book reviews development corporation represents the composite mind of a team of professionals of different disciplines within which technical ascendancy will pass from one to the other and back again as the project proceeds. The judgement of the non-technica generai manager might therefore not be always that which his professional colleagues might have wished but his responsibility is only to his chairman and board members as trustees of populations yet to come and it is from the board that he draws his authority.

North Borneo to Washington Stephen Holley came to Washington from colonial service in North Borneo, presumably Whitehall’s assumption was that as an administrator he was equally well qualified to manage the wild men of Northumberland. l-lolley’s book informs on how rather than why and what was done. But Holley is more than experienced raconteur. His book carries an urgent message to the reader at a time when the relevance of local government is questioned by both parliament and

populace. Halley’s thesis is that things can be done more speedily by a ‘quasi autonomous non-government organisation’ (QUANGO) than through the established local government committee structure which breeds functional par~hialism and hinders direct action. The new town development corporation model - if not quite a QUANGO in the publicly accepted sense has certainly proved itself as an effective instrument for rapid development and continuity of purpose. Throughout the implementation period central government retains effective control but at the same time stimulates local initiative by limiting reference back. When its objective has been achieved the corporation can be dissolved, and its assets disposed of. It may of course - as his sub-title suggests - be quicker by QUANGO but stability rather than speed is surely the essence of town making. Be that as it may - Holley’s political task masters were looking for quick results when the outgoing 1963 Conservative administration included a proposal for a new town at Washington in their White Paper The North East: A Prog-

ramme for Regional Development and Growth. To his credit, Holley appears to have succeeded in being all things to all men. The town was built quickly but without the mediocrity that characterizes much of contemporary urban development. Indeed it is the exceptionally high quality of what has been built at Washington that has gained it the seal of approval from those who live there and also those from elsewhere in the region who travel to it for work, leisure or family enjoyment. Holley has directed the creation of an exemplary new town but one wonders what he might have achieved had he remained in North Borneo. However desperate our need the loss to a less developing country of able m.en of his kind must surely be greater than our gain here at home. ffoy Gazzard Centre for Middle Eastern and Development Studies The University Durham, UK ‘F. Gibberd. liarlow: The Story of a New Town, Publications for Companies, Stevenage, UK.

Discovering Hong Kong A GEOGRAPHY OF HONG KONG edited by T.N. Chiu and CL. So Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 1983,279 pp

As its title might suggest, A Geography of Hong Kong, edited by T.N. Chiu and C.L. So, appears to be a straightforward, traditional, regional geography textbook comprising a survey of Hong Kong’s geography from the physical background, through studies of population, agriculture and industry, to various aspects of the urban environment. This conventional approach has been modified by the scale of the area under consideration and the interests of the contributors. Therefore, while the early chapters, which describe the physical geography of the colony are brief, the one relating to soils is only six pages in length, those chapters concerned with human


aspects of the subject, and particularly features of the urban environment, dominate the book: perhaps a reflection of the importance of such topics in Hong Kong. The publishers claim that the book is aimed at a wide variety of students in universities, polytechnics, colleges and sixth forms, but it is difficult to identify the precise market it is intended to serve. Few courses require a traditional regional text on Hong Kong outside the colony itself, although a large number of institutions in higher education run courses which study aspects of the newly developed and developing world. It is for such courses that this book should form a useful addition to the literature, making available material that derives from fieldwork and from secondary sources that are not otherwise easily accessible. A number of the chapters should also provide valuable case studies within the systematic

branches of geography: those on urban climate, urban planning and urban transportation providing obvious examples. A new book on Hong Kong is very welcome at a time when world interest is focussed on the colony, with political negotiations under way concerning its future prior to the expiry of the treaty with China in 1997. It will undoubtedly be of interest to those who seek an understanding of the basic geography of Hong Kong at the present time. If the intention is to provide a balanced account of the geography of the colony, paying equal attention to all geographical aspects, the scale and nature of the colony defeats this aim, especially with regard to the physical background. As might be expected from the size of Hong Kong, those chapters which describe its physical geography: geology, landforms, climate and weather, vegetation, and

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soils, are brief and factual, simply listing major characteristics. One overview chapter which encompasses all elements of the physical geography of Hong Kong would suffice and would result in a more realistic structure, rather than an artificial division which creates a multiplicity of extremely short physical chapters compared with lengthy contributions describing aspects of the human geography. Longer, and more valuable, are those chapters which provide information on urban climate and environmental pollution and conservation. They supply useful case studies drawn from a tropical area, since most of the literature in the relevant systematic studies is derived from temperate environments in western society. The applied nature of the chapter concerned with pollution lends itself more readily to a problem and policy approach. Some critical examination of policy is attempted in addition to a fairly comprehensive explanation of pollution problems and the government’s approach towards the improvement and protection of the environment. The section of the book devoted to human geography is much more detailed. This is exemplified by the chapter on population, which examines the regional pattern of many aspects of population, like age and sex structure, as well as migration patterns within Hong Kong. Unfortunately, there is limited information about aggregate population trends in the colony, which would provide a useful background before a more detailed breakdown is undertaken.

Hong Kong peculiarities Chapters on agriculture and industry focus upon those aspects that are most re!evant to the particular characteristics of Hong Kong, with its small land area and highly concentrated urban population which has low wage rates and special cultural requirements for food. Although the author states that ‘Hong Kong’s prosperity is based essentially on industry, commerce and tourism, the part played by agriculture has not been overlooked by the Government’, most of the chapter on

agriculture is concerned with a detailed description of the development and characteristics of market gardening in the colony, followed by an account of pig and poultry farming. The importance of local agriculture is stressed within the economy of Hong Kong, but little analysis or even description of policy is incorporated. A more analytical approach is adopted in the identification of spatial patterns, problems and government regulations relating to industry. Hong Kong, with one of the largest industrial economies in Asia, is faced with lack of space, and competition for space, as its major problem. The characteristics of industry. its organization and spatial pattern are described within the framework of this overriding theme. The role of government policy is emphasized in short concluding sections on the new industrial estates, the provision of accommodation for small industries and details of the special economic zone in Shenzhen.

Investigation The importance of the urban landscape in Hong Kong is emphasized by the amount of space devoted to various aspects of its investigation, with chapters describing urban planning, the new towns programme, urban housing and the residential environment, and urban transportation. Since the government has played a leading role in planning the urban fabric, after the second world war in existing urban areas, and from the 1960s in the creation of new towns which were designed to alleviate high urban densities and their attendant problems, these two chapters are highly policy oriented. They concentrate upon describing the history, development and structure of planning in the urban areas, supported by a number of maps, diagrams and also tabulated information. Some recognition is given to the difficulties encountered in Hong Kong, and the latter chapter on new towns at least attempts an analysis of the success of policies detailed. However, as in the majority of the chapters, this analysis is not integral with the main body of the chapter, but is confined to a concluding sub-

section. Various approaches to the study of the role of housing in shaping the landscape and structure of the city of Hong Kong are undertaken in that chapter concerned with urban housing and the residential environment. Changes in housing conditions are monitored and the present situation is reviewed. An examination of urban transportation forms an interesting illustration of a city whose urban sprawl has not resulted from suburban development but has been an outcome of urban clearance and the redistribution of the urban poor from the core to the periphery. Low car ownership rates necessitate a well-developed public transport system. A description of this sytem and of the problems and pattern of transport are concluded with a brief review of transport planning and policy measures. A separate, final chapter dealing with the port is justified by its importance within the economy of Hong Kong, and indeed its role as the seventh biggest port in the world. This chapter is one of the few in the book that considers the role of Hong Kong in relation to China, both now and in the new political context inevitable after the expiry of the Treaty in 1997. One distinct drawback in this book is the absence of an introductory, overview chapter containing some general information about Hong Kong, such as the proportion of land devoted to different uses and the political context, which is obviously an important influence upon the economy and its prospects for the future. Indeed, although the date 1997 is mentioned occasionally, its significance as a milestone in the future development of Hong Kong is rarely considered in any depth. An alternative to such an introduction would have been a concluding survey, by the editors, which could coordinate the various sections of the book. Without a synthesizing exercise of this nature this collection of papers of varying length and quality fail to stand as a cohesive work. However, the book is clearly structured, with a plethora of facts neatly organized within a rigid framework. All chapters are subdivided into precisely labelled sections so that the


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reader can identify the main content of each and locate any required information easily and rapidly. Ample illustrative material supports the text. The black and white maps are generally clear and relevant, as are the many graphs, diagrams and the tabulated material. References are cited at the end of each chapter. They are fairly comprehensive and include both modern and more dated sources. Some are easily available, while others are located in very specialized publications which, in these days of financial shortages, are not readily accessible in the majority of university and polytechnic libraries. This renders the material culled from

such sources and incorporated in the text valuable as a collection of facts difficult to obtain elsewhere. Overall, insufficient attention has been paid to policy analysis for this book to be of benefit to those students involved in planning and policy courses. It has much to commend it as a coliection of facts about Hong Kong, and in this respect certainly fills a gap in the market, but supplies no detailed analysis of the material presented. A number of chapters provide useful case study material upon which the systematic branches of geography courses may draw, but many are of insufficient depth or critical analysis for advanced study at degree level. If

the intention of the authors is to provide a sixth form or undergraduate level text, then their aim has been fulfilled; but to supply merely a framework for more detailed study poses a number of difficulties, since much of the essential supplementary material is not readily available. As a textbook for general use on Hong Kong and a collection of facts about that colony however, A Geography of Hong Kong by T. N. Chiu and C. L. So has a certain value. Lesley France Geography Department, The Polytechnic Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

A roof over western Europe HOUSING IN EUROPE

On this basis, as a reference book, Housing in Europe succeeds, but only

edited by Martin Wynn Groom Helm, Beckenham, UK, 1984, 325pp, E19.95 This book is a collection of nine essays which review the post-war housing histories of selected European countries; it is prefaced by a short editorial introduction. The focus is on problems, policies and the product in terms of the changing characteristics of the dwelling stock. There is. in fact, a fair amount of material available on European housing, largely in the form of indigestible data and bland analyses from United Nations (Economic Commission for Europe) sources. Additionally, there have been occasional attempts at cross national comparisons; ten years ago, for example, there was Pu~i~c HOWing in Europe and America. * Comparative studies in post-war planning have also frequently introduced a housing policy dimension. Meanwhile, studies of particular countries drawing on national. post-war data and policy shifts are fairly commonplace. The chief value of Martin Wynn’s collection must, therefore, be that it brings up to date a stock of knowledge on European housing in an easily available form.


partly. The chapters do not depart too much from each other in scope and content, but inevitably there is some unevenness. Some authors cannot resist extending the post-war period back in time to earlier years, but this and other author quirks of emphasis constitute no great blemish. There is enough of a common thread to leave the reader well informed on public and private sector housing policies, the performance of the providers of housing and the impact of housing provision on city environments, The individual authors write authoritatively, though some chapters are clearly more impressive than others.

Value of comparison The value of comparative analyses is often to throw up a mirror to one’s own position. A study of housing policy in the UK, for example, gains from being placed alongside the situation in another country. We see the importance of the transference of ideas, the significance of institutional arrangements, the dominance of political structures and ideologies and the place of background economic and social conditions. What emerges from Housing in Europe is a remarkable similarity of post-war performance,

country by country, irrespective of political and institutional determ inants. A concern for quantitative deficits in housing stock in the years after 1945 has now been replaced by an acknowledgement of qualitative deficiencies. Most countries showed annual housing production figures peaking in the 196Os, followed by recession in the construction industry in the 1970s. Another similarity across particularly western Europe was the enthusiasm for rehabilitation and renewal which effectively closed the slum clearance period a decade or more ago. Other policy instruments also show considerable uniformity: rent restriction, subsidies of various kinds, non-profit housing agencies, public (social) housing, and attempts to integrate housing policy with other forms of planning, particularly strategic solutions to population redistribution. All in all, there is much more to unite than to divide in European post-war housing experiences. These favourable comments on Martin Wynn’s collection have to be tempered somewhat, however. Of the nine countries selected, seven are in western Europe: France, the FRG, the UK, Spain, Denmark, Italy and Portugal. The omission of Belgium, Ireland and Switzerland may not be too serious, but that of Norway and particularly Sweden is regrettable. In