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Power, participation and everyday politics within state-led urban renewal in Hong Kong

This thesis identifies and examines the ways power, participation, and everyday politics shape urban renewal outcomes in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has a long history of state-led urban renewal, which continues to lead to displacement and change the form and function of neighbourhoods. Driven by profit, and a culture in which redevelopment represents progress, Hong Kong's urban development context is shaped by ongoing coloniality, increased integration with China, growing inequality, and a rapidly changing civil society with evolving and competing urban aspirations. Scholarly narratives of Hong Kong and its urban development practices and outcomes are ordinarily set against Eurocentric global city narratives that emphasise its rapid transition from a colonial outpost in the nineteenth century to a global financial hub. These narratives fail to capture diverse everyday aspirations, perceptions, and experiences of urban renewal in Hong Kong, including those related to the interventions of the Urban Renewal Authority (URA). This thesis demonstrates how used in conjunction, analytical optics of postcolonial and postpolitical theory can enrich understanding of outcomes of state-led urban renewal in Hong Kong. This study draws on a range of qualitative methods, including interviews, participatory stakeholder mapping, focus groups, and historical and contemporary documents, to generate rich data supporting new insights into Hong Kong's urban development context, and advances critical urban theory. Analysing urban renewal outcomes in Hong Kong through postcolonial urban and postpolitics optics highlights three critical insights. Firstly, urban renewal outcomes in Hong Kong are shaped by competing and entangled urban aspirations. The URA elite utilises the inter-referenced urbanisms of other Asian cities to articulate and legitimise their urban aspirations. Notably, other competing interest groups also inter-reference other Asian cities to challenge the form and function of the URA, and this challenges and reinforces its taken-for-granted authority. Secondly, the URA, which functions as a corporation, uses various strategies to displace politics surrounding its aspirational profit-driven urban renewal practices. Paradoxically, this includes incorporating democratic principles and authoritarian-style disciplining tactics that strengthen the state's authority and creates a fertile ground for resistance, repoliticisation, and the enactment of everyday politics. Lastly, paying attention to urban informality and contrary to postpolitical scholarship that places 'proper politics' at a distance from the state (Etherington & Jones, 2018; Swyngedouw, 2014b), everyday politics is enacted and reconfigures state-society relations from between the state and non-state groups, and as already emphasised by postpolitical scholars, at a distance from the state. Moreover, these everyday acts of politics include the mobility of neighbourhood politics across the city and everyday acts of survival. Critical insights developed in this thesis highlight the relational and situated nature of tensions between normalised and entrenched inequality on the one hand and everyday acts of politics on the other. Significantly, broadening our understanding of how power, participation, and everyday politics shape urban renewal outcomes also broadens possibilities for imagining and acting out alternative, more equitable urban development trajectories in Hong Kong.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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