Impacts of Economic Restructuring of Export-Oriented Industrialization on Urban Development in the Pearl River Delta – A Case Study of Dongguan

Principal Investigator: Anthony G.O. YEH (PI)

Funding body: Humanities and Social Sciences Prestigious Fellowship Scheme (37002617)


China’s urbanization and economic development have been tremendous since the adoption of economic reform and open door policy in 1978.  Because of the national urbanization policy of China, in addition to industrialization in the cities, industrialization was occurring in the rural areas as well. Rural urbanization is fueled by the growth of industries of village and township enterprises (VTE) in the once rural areas of China, especially areas in the coastal areas. However, in past few years, there is a trend of economic restructuring in China. With the rapid increase in wages and land prices in the coastal areas, the rise of China to become the second largest economic system after USA, and the decline in the European and North American markets, industrial products except those high-tech industries, were no longer as competitive as before. There has been difficulties in recruiting cheap labour and decline in the export-oriented industries, especially in the Pearl River Delta. There is also a rising trend of the development of producer services in the large cities of the Pearl River Delta with economic restructuring from manufacturing, to services and then to producer services industries.  The study aims to examine the soico-economic and land use impacts of economic restructuring on urban development in the Pearl River Delta, one of the early success of export-oriented industries.  The study will enhance our understanding of the impacts of economic restructuring on urban development, especially on the once boom towns and cities in the era of export-oriented industrial development. It will help other cities in China which have similar characteristics as the PRD to be better prepared to deal with the problem of industrial decline and the concomitant derelict industrial buildings and land.

The Development of New Central Business Districts (CBDs) in China: Development Model and Dynamics

Principal Investigator: Anthony G.O. YEH (PI)

Funding body: General Research Fund (17603617)


Since economic reforms in 1978, China’s economy has transformed from industry, to services, and now to producer services. As a result, the urban landscape has changed significantly. Central business districts (CBDs) have been one of the most visible new urban landscapes in many Chinese cities. Different from those in Western cities, many recently developed CBDs have been built in new business districts rather than developed in the old city propers. For the development of a new CBD, how to fill the office spaces is often a major problem worldwide. However, in China, the state plays a significant role in the planning and development of these new CBDs. State Own Enterprises (SOEs) are often used as pioneer firms to be first located in the new CBDs for attracting other firms to be located subsequently in them. The objective of this study is to examine the development dynamics of new CBDs in China by testing a proposed Public Enterprise-Led Model which uses SOEs as catalyst for attracting other firms in their early years of development.  A quasi-experimental staging time-series research design will be used in the study by examining whether there is a development pattern of succession of ownerships, types, sizes, and investment sources of producer service firms in the new CBDs that were developed in different periods of time. It will use Chinese economic census at multiple years to reconstruct the profile of producer service firms in the new CBDs to examine the process of spatial concentration and succession of firms. The research will help to identify the role of SOEs in triggering off the spatial concentration process. It will examine the development process, characteristics and dynamics of firm succession. The project will study four cities that developed new CBDs in different time periods, namely Shanghai (Lujiazui financial and trade zone in the 1990s), Guangzhou (Pearl River New Town in the 2000s),  Nanjing (Hexi new business district in the 2000s), and Shenzhen (Qianhai in the 2010s). Besides using economic census to examine the proposed Public Enterprise-Led Model and business succession,  in-depth interviews with government officials and managers of SOEs and non-SOEs will be conducted to understand the planning process and development dynamics of these new CBDs. The study will contribute to our understanding of the development of post-industrial spaces in China and rethinking of the role of the state in constructing new CBDs in other countries.

A Study of Urban Living and Employment Compactness Based on Multi-source Spatio-temporal Data

Project Team: Anthony G.O. YEH (PI), Dr. Weifeng Li (Co-I), Dr. Zhixin Qi (Co-I)

Funding body: National Science Foundation China (NSFC) General Program


Rapid urbanization in China has led to a set of urban problems such as traffic congestion, energy consumption, which may affect sustainable development. One of the problems is mismatch between activities and spatial structures. Urban planning in China has been promoting compact city characterized as high-density and mixed land use development for many years. However, compact urban form, compact land use and facilities are not real goals of fulfilling a compact city. Achieving high quality and compactness of urban living and employment are the key issues of sustainable development. The availability of big data from mobile phones and smart cards enable us to have better knowledge of travel pattern and behaviours. To recognize and extract residents’ living and commuting activity pattern from big data is one key scientific question. The other scientific question is how to demonstrate the evolving dynamics of urban systems by integrating the big data with the traditional land use and transportation data. This project examines the analysis of big data for the investigating the compactness of urban living and employment and to find the relationships between the measurement of compactness from traditional land use analysis and actual people’s activity space from big data. The project will further advance the theory of compact city, filling in the research gap that traditional urban planning practice cannot match spatial structure and urban micro-economic activities. It will develop the bottom-up activity based urban planning theoretical framework by the use of big data which is of great significance to sustainable urban spatial development and smart urban planning.

Neighbourhood Design and Energy Efficiency in Post-industrial Urban China: Evidence from Shenzhen and Hong Kong

Principal Investigator: Weifeng LI
Team: Jie LI, Jianzheng LIU, Wenbo GUO
Funding body: GRF-ECS


Achieving low carbon urban development in Chinese cities requires a combination of approaches. More understanding of the household demand side is necessary to make relevant policies to potentially influence the behaviours of urban energy end-users. This research aims to take a step further by seeking to understand the potential of alternative urban form and neighbourhood design in relation to energy efficiency, and to answer the question of how neighbourhood design influences a household’s direct energy consumption as well as carbon emissions, through the influence on the urban household’s lifestyle in post-industrial Chinese cities. It uses data from the disaggregated household-level survey with rich demographic and socio-economic information, collected from both Hong Kong – one of the most densely populated city, and Shenzhen – a newly emerging city. An important methodological contribution of the study to the relationship between built environment, travel behaviour and household energy consumption is to provide new insights of the interaction of residence and mobility as a lifestyle bundle, and clarify the role of urban form and neighbourhood design in influencing a household’s lifestyle choice with respect to energy consumption and carbon emission. In the research, we also propose the use of instrumental variables (IV) approach and Structural Equation Models (SEM) to account for the residential self-selection issue and the interaction of residential and travel energy consumptions.


  1. Construct a large cross-sectional dataset that links neighbourhood design portfolio, housing, vehicle ownership to household energy uses in Shenzhen and Hong Kong;
  2. Formulate a theoretical framework to integrate the two main sources of household direct energy consumption, and relate them to the neighbourhood design in China’s urban context, through the influence on urban households’ lifestyles;
  3. Empirically examine the impacts of neighbourhood design on a household’s energy consumption and carbon emissions, through the use of instrumental variables (IV) approach and Structural Equation Models (SEM);
  4. Compare and contrast the cases in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, and recommend neighbourhood land use planning and design guidelines for low carbon development in Chinese cities.


Legitimate or Illegitimate NIMBYs? Understanding Opposition to Public Housing through an Interpretive Approach

Principal Investigator: Mandy H.M. LAU
Funding body: GRF-ECS


This project examines the conflicts which emerge during the siting of affordable housing. While the public accepts the need for affordable housing in general, there is often strong opposition when concrete projects are proposed. In recent years, there has been increasing resistance to the siting of public housing across different districts in Hong Kong. Through analysis of policy documents and in-depth interviews with stakeholders, the project aims to investigate why such conflicts emerge, and how they are resolved. In particular, it seeks to understand why some opposition motives are regarded as legitimate, while others are labeled as illegitimate NIMBYism.


  1. To understand why opposition to the siting of public housing has increased in Hong Kong;
  2. To investigate how actors construct the legitimacy of different oppositional frames;
  3. To explore possible strategies which may help alleviate conflicts over siting of public housing in Hong Kong.


A framing analysis of the inadequate housing problem in Hong Kong

Principal Investigator: Mandy H.M. Lau
Source of Funding: GRF


This project examines policy controversies over the inadequate housing problem in Hong Kong. While there is an extensive literature on slum housing in developing countries, there are relatively fewer studies on inadequate housing in the developed world. In reality, inadequate housing also exists in highly developed cities, such as Hong Kong, where tens of thousands of households live in overcrowded sub-divided flats.

The first phase of this project is to outline the changing visibility of the inadequate housing problem in Hong Kong, through examining statistical data and news reports. In particular, it attempts to explain the rapid entrance of this problem onto the political agenda over the last few years.

The second phase of the project applies the method of framing analysis, to analyse why policy controversies emerged, despite consensus over the severity of the inadequate housing problem. The framing method goes beyond conventional policy analysis methods, which tend to focus on the efficiency or cost-effectiveness of different policy interventions. It acknowledges the prevalence of controversies in public policymaking, since policy actors have divergent interpretations about the causes of a problem, and hence the appropriateness of different policy responses.

The final phase of the project involves interviewing policy actors, to examine how framing strategies interact with the material resources and socio-political power possessed by different actors, and how the local policymaking context influences the choice of particular courses of action.

Overall, the project seeks to deepen our understanding of the role of framing strategies in the policymaking process. This approach helps explain why particular policies emerge in response to the inadequate housing problem, and why controversies persist. In addition, it provides insights into possible strategies for reframing, such as the generation of new frames that could potentially bridge the divide between adversaries, and could pave the way towards more consensual solutions.


  1. To outline the changing visibility of the inadequate housing problem in Hong Kong, and explain its rapid entrance onto the political agenda in recent years
  2. To identify the strategies which different actors have adopted to frame the causes of and solutions to the inadequate housing problem
  3. To analyse how framing strategies interact with material resources, political power and the policymaking context, to shape the set of policy responses in Hong Kong
  4. To explain why controversies have emerged during the policymaking process, despite consensus over the severity of the inadequate housing problem
  5. To identify possibilities for re-framing the inadequate housing debate towards more consensual solutions

Cost of Excess Air Pollution in China and Its Cross-provincial Distribution: Focusing on the Health Effects

Principal Investigator: Kyung-Min Nam
Source of Funding: ECS


China is notorious for its excess air pollution.

Even conservative estimates of the economic costs associated with excess particulate matter (PM10) pollution range 4-6% of China’s historic gross domestic product (GDP), depending on time periods.

Research Questions in This Project:

  • How large is the cost of excess air pollution in China, if a broader loss category, often neglected in existing studies, is considered?
  • How does the cost differ by province?


Develop an integrated pollution-health effects assessment tool that reflects China’s cross-provincial heterogeneity.

Apply the tool to the analysis of multiple policy scenarios and answer the questions.


Transferability of subsidized housing policy from a liberal interventionist to a marketized socialist system: the cases of Hong Kong and Shenzhen

Principal Investigator: Rebecca L.H. CHIU
Source of Funding: General Research Fund, Hong Kong Research Grant Council

The Asian financial crises of 1997 and the global financial crisis of 2008 led to significant revisions of Asia’s subsidized housing policy to combat diminishing affordability due to either the post-crisis economic depression or overheated housing markets resultant from the movement of global funds to the Asian markets since 2009. Drawing lessons from other housing systems has been a necessary step in the policy revision process.

This study aims to analyse and evaluate the transferability of subsidized housing policies in the liberal interventionist system of Hong Kong to the marketized socialist system of Shenzhen to facilitate the development of a theoretical discourse of policy transferability in comparative housing studies.


  1. To establish the extent of subsidized policy transfer from Hong Kong to Shenzhen since 2011 by investigating the convergence and divergence in policy trends.
  2. To explain the extent of policy transfer by investigating the compatibility of the subsidized housing policy contexts between Hong Kong and Shenzhen.
  3. To further explain the extent of policy transfer by assessing Shenzhen’s capability and desire to replicate the policy environment of Hong Kong’s subsidized housing policies.
  4. To identify critical concerns in the transferability consideration process that have affected the policy choice and the subsequent performance of the transferred policy.
  5. To pioneer conceptual constructs for explaining and evaluating housing policy transferability across a liberal interventionist and a marketized socialist housing system under the ‘one country, two system’ context.