Planning standards, spatial justice, sense of place and subjective well-being: comparing five sub-regions in Hong Kong





Spatial planning is critical for promoting health and well-being (Barton, 2015, p.13). Our health and well-being are determined by our ability to function positively in our private and social realms (Keys and Haidt, 2003, p.6). Nussbaum (1992, p.222) identifies two thresholds for human functioning: level one capabilities include satisfying basic needs while level two capabilities include opportunities to live a complete human life.

Planning legislation and regulations are fundamental to shaping spaces and places in cities, playing crucial roles in developing people’s capabilities. Unless the spatial planning system recognises the needs of different stakeholders, granting them level participatory rights to ensure a fair distribution of facilities to develop their capabilities, producing equitable spaces for people’s multifaceted flourishing may be difficult. The disposition of land uses and urban design also affect people’s sense of place. Convenient neighbourhoods with decent socio-petal public spaces tend to foster a cognitive and an affective sense of place, which may eventually cumulate to a behavioural sense of place that is ‘sacrificial’ (Ng et al., 2021). Hence, planning standards can be vital to building spatially just cities.

The Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines (HKPSGs) were first developed by the former British colonial government to facilitate new town development in the 1960s and 70s. Over the years, the HKPSGs have been used to reserve land for socio-economic development and plan implementation across the territory. This paper argues that the HKPSGs have served as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ tool to perpetuate the spatial disparities bequeathed by the colonial administration. The HKPSGs specify residential densities in the city, perpetuating three distinct urban forms with different population densities — urban areas (36,000 people/km2), new towns (20,000 people/km2), and the rural New Territories (1,100 people/km2) (Ng et al., 2023, p. 91). The spatial disparities are further worsened by the population threshold-driven provision of community facilities, open space, greening, and other necessary amenities.

Through an audit of existing facilities and a survey with responses from over 2,000 participants in five sub-regions in Hong Kong, this paper explores the impacts of the HKPSGs on the built environment, including the aspects of population density and the abundance of necessary facilities and people’s consequent sense of place and subjective well-being. We hypothesise that people living in areas with a higher population density will have a weaker sense of place and subjective well-being. We also hypothesise that people living in areas with inadequate community and recreation facilities are less satisfied with their neighbourhoods and thus will have a weaker sense of place and subjective well-being. The research findings have important policy and planning implications.

Author Biography

  • Mee Kam Ng, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

    Mee Kam Ng is Vice-chair of the Department of Geography and Resource Management, the Director of the Urban Studies Programme, and an Associate Director of the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She is a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and the Royal Town Planning Institute in the UK, and a fellow of the Hong Kong Institute of Planners (HKIP). In 2021, she was selected as an Honorary Member of the American Institute of Architects Hong Kong Chapter. Her publications have earned her seven HKIP Awards and the 2015 Association of European Schools of Planning Best Published Paper Award. She has been a consultant to the United Nations, the European Union and the Municipal Government of Shenzhen. The Urban Studies Programme she directs is a Partner of the UN-Habitat’s World Urban Campaign, promoting the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.


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Ng, M.K., Yeung, T.C, Kwan, M.P., Tieben, H., Lau, T.Y.T., Zhu, J. and Xu, Y. (2021). Place qualities, sense of place and subjective well-being: a study of two typical urban neighbourhoods in Hong Kong, Cities & Health, 6(6), pp. 1122-1133.