Patterns in air quality and the provision of public green spaces reflect a profoundly unequal society. In 2016, Hong Kong’s Census Reports recorded a Gini coefficient result of 0.539, well exceeding most developed economies. This represents an astonishing concentration of wealth amongst Hong Kong’s elite (Oxfam, 2016: 1). The city’s tiny and unsafe cage housing seems a world away from the luxury penthouses lining the airy Victoria Harbour, or the mansions scattered around the lush greenery of Victoria Peak. These colonial-era place names parallel ongoing power relations which benefit a wealthy and internationally mobile elite.
Hong Kong seems perennially preoccupied with marketing itself as a welcoming global city, a destination for expatriates who might better be described as economic migrants to the tax haven. Still, as the authorities try to paint a picture of Hong Kong as an ‘ecologically secure premium enclave’ (Lee, 2013: 906), the reality is that the city’s political ecology is increasingly subject to the interests of Mainland China. The evolution of Hong Kong’s water supply arrangements expose this increased dependence, and more recently, the prioritisation of Mainland cities by the Chinese authorities as Hong Kong becomes a ‘good partner’, or indeed a subordinate to the Mainland (Civic exchange, 2017: 1).
Hong Kong’s citizens are all-too-aware of these shifting power relations, as the city becomes more dependent on Mainland resources and trade. These shifting power relations underpin a contemporary crisis in the city’s Chinese identity, as pro-democracy protests and related civil unrest have rocked the city for nearly a year. The pandemic has ultimately stifled demonstrations, much to the satisfaction of Chinese authorities, who have opportunistically unveiled sweeping new ‘national security’ laws which will erode the SAR’s right to a ‘high degree of autonomy’. The move has even been described as ‘the end of Hong Kong’, and reiterates the fundamental role of urban political ecology in the life and identity of this disputed Chinese and global city, both now and into the future.
Civic Exchange, ‘The Illusion of Plenty: Hong Kong’s Water Security, Working Towards Regional Water Harmony’, 2017, available at: https://civic-exchange.org/report/water2017/
Lee, Nelson L., ‘The Changing Nature of Border, Scale, and the Production of Hong Kong’s Water Supply System since 1959’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Vol. 38.3, 2014, p. 903-921
Oxfam, ‘Hong Kong Inequality Report’, World Without Poverty, 2017, available at: https://www.oxfam.org.hk/tc/f/news_and_publication/16372/Oxfam_inequality%20report_Eng_FINAL.pdf
Feature Image: Hong Kong skyline from Victoria Peak, author, 2017
‘The Chinese flag flies higher than the SAR’s flag at government buildings in the city’, Vivek Prakash/Agence France-Presse, Getty Images, accessed at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/03/opinion/hong-kong-protest.html