chapter  12
Making cultures and places from below: new urban activism in Hong Kong
Pages 13

In Hong Kong, a new wave of preservation movements has emerged since the start of the twenty-first century. The government’s launch of massive redevelopment and reclamation plans in Central and Wanchai has provided the backdrop for the rise of a new breed of urban activism among architects, urban planners, community workers and preservation groups. The chain of pro-preservation protests bespeaks deep-seated conflict between two divergent approaches to urban space among the government and the preservation movement. The former promotes an ideology of developmentalism in narrow economic terms, often at the expense of local cultures and lived space. Since the late 1990s, following the trend of cultural globalization worldwide (Crane 2002), the government has started to put cultural activities at the forefront of a policy of urban entrepreneurialism (Ku and Tsui 2008; Jessop and Sum 2000). The West Kowloon Cultural District Project, the promotion of heritage tourism and the proposals for creative industries are all examples of such initiatives. Culture is incorporated into the economy through a new discourse of cultural economy that defines culture as the principal means for adding economic value. While the government’s discourse appears to allow more room for the development of culture and heritage than in the past, it is in effect a product of the deepening of the market principle as well as a worldwide expansion of the tourism industry (Ku 2010). The new breed of urban activism, however, has raised a host of new claims regarding living space, community, history and local identity, which calls forth a very different approach to urban space. Western scholars have coined the term ‘new social movements’ to characterize such culture-or identity-based actions, as differentiated from conventional class-based and economically oriented protests (Melucci 1985; Offe 1985; Touraine 1985).