Producing Food and Enhancing Community in the City: Using a Hybrid Design-land Economy Approach to Investigate the Barriers to Urban Farming in Hong Kong

Department: Architecture
Research Centre: Sustainable High Density Cities lab
Active Dates: 2016 - 2019

Principal Investigator: H.K. WEE (PI), Chris WEBSTER (Co-PI)
Funding body: GRF

Abstract

The Mercer Quality of Living Index shows a correlation between the liveability of a city and its ability to support a society of excellence. Hong Kong ranks sixth in the 2012 Mercer Infrastructure Ranking, but is well outside the top 50 on the same Quality of Living Ranking. One of the critical and highly visible areas of liveability is the amount of green available to a city, which is also the reason why Chinese cities have implemented a hard rule of a fixed green ratio in all new urban developments as a shortcut to attaining green city status. However, much urban landscape in China quickly falls into disrepair and where the will and fiscal revenue is available to support highly green urbanscapes, as in Singapore, the costs can become unsustainable. This research takes a new look at the idea of productive agricultural urban green space and asks whether HK can develop an innovative sustainable greening model. The innovative nature of the proposed model is its linking up of community, technology, and property rights. The project is suitably and innovatively located jointly in the Department of Architecture, the Division of Landscape Architecture and the HKU Ronald Coase Centre for Property Rights Research.

Objectives

  1. Identify and survey workable pockets of private and public land, and multi-level surfaces for cultivation within the pilot study area in the Western District of Hong Kong. Propose a network of spaces that permeates through the urban farms, in order for communities to flourish around them.
  2. Focus on planning feasibility in accessibility, circulation, solar orientation, and waste management, using established engineering solutions for high-intensity food cultivation. This pilot area must demonstrate complex traits in both physical and social terms, combining high-tech and traditional farming methods, in order for it to benefit the rest of Hong Kong, once success is demonstrated on some levels.
  3. Investigate the institutional mechanisms that allow the blending of private property rights, public property rights and common rights necessary to make systematic urban agriculture a reality.
  4. Position Hong Kong in a unique position in the discourse of food urbanism, by virtue of its particular model of engineering land-technology-property rights for improved food security and increased land utility.
  5. Demonstrate the role of design and planning in overcoming the typically binding contraints of urban agricultural development, and thereby creating win-win-win (private-public-communal) gains in urban environments.

Impact

  • From the perspective of the history of Asian urbanism, food urbanism is not an accidental research hypothesis, but an inevitable frontier in urban technology and land economy. The benefits of urban agriculture in Hong Kong include the following:
  • Liveability: In the long-term, it is crucial that there is greater selectivity in how we plan and plant in our cities, in order to obtain more productive and sustainable results of greening.
  • Community Building & Public Space: As spaces in the city are made available for food production and consumption by the local community, there will be opportunities to employ these newly identified spaces as a series of inter-connected public spaces.
  • Carbon Footprint: Hong Kong relies on importing 90% of our perishable food. It is an economically viable solution currently, but the high carbon footprint of our consumables suggests that it is not sustainable in the long-run.
  • Food Safety & Security: Food security ranks unusually low in Hong Kong because of the availability of cheap produce from China. This complacency will alter in the years to come, as China responds to global food shortage in the next ten years. (Rosin, et al., 2012)
  • New Economy & Employment: A mature and stable urban agricultural economy will not only generate new forms of employment and a trickle-down effect, but will also make our economy more resilient to fluctuations in the global market due to an increased diversity. (Miazzo, et al., 2013)
UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG
FACULTY OF ARCHITECTURE