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Social Input

2011 April 26
by Marc Weigum

< The "Wedding Cart Street" in Wan Chai, Hong Kong, was redeveloped in 2007 after most of the 647 affected homeowners were bought out by Hong Kong's Urban Renewal Authority >

During my recent trip to Hong Kong, the idea of gaining public support for development projects kept resonating in many of the conversations we had with industry leaders. However, with the government owning the land and having the ability to “buy out” residents and move them elsewhere, one has to wonder how much public input they are really wanting. I soon wondered if this level of development was sustainable with an elevated level of public opinion.  In comparison, here in Seattle, it’s taken us years to get the 520 bridge tolled and an alternative the viaduct approved. The continued gathering of additional public opinion creates an environment of “analysis paralysis.” So it’s hard to say what the absolute right level of each is most efficient.

Even after control of the former colony was turned over to mainland China, Hong Kong has continued to thrive as the economic powerhouse of the developing Chinese economy. With some aspects of the 156 years of British rule still ingrained, Hong Kong maintains some advantages over mainland China. This includes a long history of British regulation and oversight as well as the economic freedom and political autonomy. They still maintain a semi-direct democracy and have in their constitution the promise of universal suffrage by 2007. Although this has been postponed until 2017 and some protesting, there is a widespread conservatism and cautiousness of Hong Kong residents as a whole.

Although these protests may indicate a massive support for democracy and a “people’s voice,” many others are more concerned with their economic over their political rights as long as incomes and standards of living continue to rise. This is in stark contrast to Seattle where even those with high standards of living make it a priority to attend to their political agendas. With the Hong Kong government being able to pay above “market” to transplant individuals for prime development areas, most of the movements may continue to be grassroots and isolated to a few who see political freedom as a fundamental necessity to the masses of Hong Kong.


Marc Weigum is owner of Weigum Properties as well as a second year Masters of Science in Real Estate student and an Affiliate Fellow of the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies in the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington. The interdisciplinary group of Fellows recently returned from a research trip to Hong Kong. Read more about their findings on their blog