17 December 2017
Q&A Kennedy Town, Hong Kong Neighbourhood Study
Grosvenor Asia Pacific recently released their second research study on Hong Kong neighbourhoods. This Q&A discusses the key findings from that research
Why is Grosvenor interested in Hong Kong neighbourhoods?
Grosvenor has long been associated with the making and shaping of great neighbourhoods. We believe great cities are underpinned by diverse neighbourhoods and as cities increasingly compete for global talent, having neighbourhoods that positively contribute to citizen happiness, healthiness and prosperity will become more and more important. This has very significant impacts for the built environment and leads to the question of how can developers provide urban forms that meet these ever growing demands?
Grosvenor's Asia Pacific business and activity continue to expand in line with the region's increased economic activity, and we've been looking at ways we can adapt and advance approaches that have been successful for Grosvenor in other parts of the globe to positively contribute to the cities in which we work. Hong Kong's physical environment, with high rise dense forms of urban living – which the city is best known for – is complemented by much greener areas due to the high level of Country Park and coastline, which creates some very different forms of neighbourhood across Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories.
In 2016 we produced a report examining how many different neighbourhoods there could be in Hong Kong, how these varied by size, scale, physical forms and demographics, what Hong Kong people most valued in their neighbourhood and how satisfied they were with the neighbourhood in which they live. Doing this helps us better understand the city and to be smarter and more thoughtful developers.
Why was Kennedy Town chosen for deeper analysis?
Based on the initial study, we were able to screen Hong Kong's neighbourhoods to see which, of the over 600 we identified, appeared to have more of the things that Hong Kong people said they valued. This included physical factors such as transport and quality of built design as well as less tangible factors such as vibrancy and diversity. Our study determined that 72% of residents were satisfied with their neighbourhood - a figure that appeared significantly higher than studies that look at citizen happiness at the city level - and we wanted to see whether ‘high scoring’ neighbourhoods also had resident satisfaction levels above this city-wide benchmark. Kennedy Town, to the West of Hong Kong Island, was therefore shortlisted for a deeper dive.
The second reason to select Kennedy Town was our classification of it as a ‘transitional’ neighbourhood. While in some senses, neighbourhoods are permanently in transition as their populations grow, shrink or change in demographic composition and as they experience physical redevelopment, there are clearly neighbourhoods that undergo more dramatic change. These are often - though not exclusively - driven by infrastructure changes, which has been the case in Kennedy Town with the completion of the extension of the Island MTR line in late 2014. We wanted to see how residents perceived these changes, positively or negatively and why?
What was the most surprising thing you found?
Whilst expecting a high level of resident satisfaction, the final outturn of 91% was higher than we anticipated. More surprising was that 80% of residents we surveyed believed the neighbourhood had improved over the last 5 years with a very small minority (less than 5%) expecting to move out of the neighbourhood over the next year. This appears in large part to be a reflection of the increased accessibility of the neighbourhood, illustrating that investment in transport improvements does yield public benefit. The areas of concern for the neighbourhood were less surprising, led by property price increases, though these need to be seen in the context of broader city trends rather than an anomaly at a neighbourhood level. What was particularly interesting to us was the perception of many residents that the neighbourhood was rapidly changing with new development and new residents moving in. However our study of residential completions in core Kennedy Town showed that this decade will likely yield the lowest net number of new residences in the neighbourhood since the 1960's. This therefore suggests to us that the perception of change is caused by the type and scale of development which is not always in keeping with the existing built form of the neighbourhood.
What lessons do you take for Hong Kong as a whole?
Neighbourhoods matter. Our focus groups made it very clear that residents identified with the Kennedy Town neighbourhood and had strong opinions on what works and what doesn't work. Hong Kong is maturing as a city and future successful neighbourhoods need a strong sense of place. This means new developments should have some form of tangible connection with the history and evolution of the neighbourhood, at a scale and type that enhances the quality of the public realm.
Hong Kong can certainly make some significant improvements on public realm, which means a combination of design of buildings, provision of public open space and walkability. All of these were factors that came up in our study as impacting resident satisfaction.
Residents emphasized proximity to the waterfront as one of the key advantages of the neighbourhood. Hong Kong's iconic waterfront views are what shape much of the global image of the city. The Waterfront has a huge amount of currently under-utilised potential and more effective development and use of the waterfront could and should help Hong Kong maintain its status as one of the world's leading cities.
 Hong Kong Neighbourhoods: A Living Cities Approach, Grosvenor Research (2016)