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Sustainable Communities 

If we want to build sustainable communities, the top-down technically oriented urban planning system needs to be changed. Hong Kong needs the following:



A Need to Rebalance Exchange Values and Use Values in Urban Development

The technically oriented top-down planning may satisfy the needs of the market for exchange values such as profit-making and rents, etc (Figure 1). However, it tends to be less sensitive to the physical, mental and social needs of individuals and families. To enhance the use values of space, we have to ask the following questions:

  • What kind of environment can encourage people to be more mindful of their surrounding so that they can actively participate in improving the neighbourhood?
  • What kinds of facilities are important to promote individual well-being and family resilience?
  • How to promote more art-related activities in public spaces to train people’s imaginative muscle?

Figure 1: Urban Development Biased towards Exchange Value

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Source: Wildflowers Institute, 2005, p.5

The whole idea is to rebalance the axis to build a sustainable community (Figure 2).


Figure 2: Rebalancing Exchange and Use Values in Urban Development
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Source: Wildflowers Institute, 2005, p.13.


What is a Sustainable Community?

A sustainable community place equal, if not more importance on environmental and social factors than economic ones. Figure 3 illustrates the fact that without a green environment and a just society, economic prosperity cannot be attained.

Figure 3: Nested Sustainable Development

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Source: Ng and Chan, 2004, p.14.


The Egan Wheel illustrates the attributes of a sustainable community (Figure 4).


Figure 4: The Egan Wheel: Key Aspects of Sustainable Communities

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Source: Academy for Sustainable Communities, Making Places: Creating Sustainable Communities,, p.7., accessed in August 2014


How can we build a sustainable community? How can we make sure that our neighbourhood is full of use values with its unique character? We need to practise community planning and learn the trick of place-making!


Practising Community Planning and Place-making

Community planning relies on the community seeing one another as assets (Figure 5)! These assets in the neighbourhood or district can be important resources to tackle issues identified by the local community. Hence, partnership among different stakeholders is essential. Figure 6 provides a sample of how different stakeholders can work together. Local communities also need to know their own place very well and hence gather baseline information is a must. One suggested process is:

  • Gathering baseline information (Figure 7)
  • Engaging the community through various activities such as workshops or exhibitions to identify key issues in the community
  • Action planning (Figure 8)


Figure 5: Assets in a Community

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 Source: Cameron and Goibson, 2001, p.51


Figure 6: An Example of Partnership Among Different Stakeholders
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Source: Modified from ICLEI, 1996, p.19.

Figure 7: Gathering Baseline Information

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Source: Synthesised from Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, South Africa, 2002; extracted from Ng and Chan, 2004, p.55.

Figure 8: Action Planning

comm planning 2 2

Source: Synthesised from ICLEI, 1996.


In Hong Kong, it is very difficult to practise community planning because the Government is not supporting it. However, local communities should be self-empowered and learn how to make their place fun, lively and full of human relationships. Community planning enriches a place with great human relationships!

Place-making is a very good tool to shape space into relationship-rich places. We have to learn that in order to make successful public space and pay attention to the following aspects (Figure 9): 

• Relationship-rich places are highly accessible places: they can be seen and reached very easily.
• Relationship-rich places have lots of activities and uses, attracting people from all walks of life to gather and have fun!
• Relationship-rich places are comfortable and have a great image that people feel very proud of.
• Great places are places where people can have a conversation easily, make good friends and feel like interacting and talking!


If your community has these places, you are indeed pursuing a low-carbon living because you do not need to be just customers in a shopping-mall, you can be a citizen in an urban common (the public space)!


 Figure 9: Place-making

urban page04 pic01enSource:


Pursuing Low Carbon Living

There are two fundamental principles in low-carbon living at the community level: restoring our relationships with nature and restoring our relationships with our fellow human being.


Restoring Relationship with Nature

We should respect the “indigenous” population of Mother Earth, that is, trees and vegetation. Therefore we should bring nature and biodiversity back to urban development. Many places are pursuing “low impact development” through adopting the biomimicry principles (Figure 10). And in our daily lives, we should try our best to restore nature and use as little resource as possible. For resources that we use, we should reduce, reuse, recycle and prevent the production of waste. So low-carbon living challenges our creativity to close the loop of resource flows including our daily use of water, energy and other resources.


Figure 10: Biomimicry Principles

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Restoring Relationship with Fellow Citizens

Although Hong Kong is a compact and dense city, people do not know one another so well even at the neighbourhood level. Hence, it is very important for us to have good public space through place-making efforts. Developing Hong Kong’s version of the Greek Agora (public space) will allow people to participation in discussions about local development. Nothing is better and lower carbon than deliberating the future of a place in its public realm!

In other words, when we consider “development”, we can no longer just focus on the dollar sign. Monetary value is just one of the important elements in the development process. We should also ask questions about the impacts of certain development projects on Mother Earth and on our community, our families and ourselves—physically, mentally and socially! We need to have sustainability impact assessment in the development process!



Sustainability Impact Assessment

According to OECD (2010, p.6), we have to ask the following questions when a development initiative is invoked:

  • “What is the nature and scale of the issue(s), how is it evolving, and who is most affected by it?
  • What are the views of the stakeholders concerned?
  • What are the policy objectives and what problems need to be addressed or solved?
  • What are the likely impacts (social, economic, ecological and institutional) of the policy options?
  • What are the possible unintended (secondary) side-effects?
  • What changes in the target group’s behaviour are desired?”


Table 1 below lists the usual items that we have to pay attention to in undertaking a sustainability impact assessment.


Table 1: Contents of a Sustainability Impact Assessment: an example

Project Description:

  • Physical development (project site, tenure, project related site, proposed development, development process)
  • Linkage: proposed linkages, new traffic system?
  • Institutional: any change in agency?


  • On site, off site (direct, indirect impacts)
  • Short, medium, long and cumulative ones
1.Economic Impacts
  • Income
  • Employment effects (person-years)
  • Other quantifiable effects
  • Non-quantifiable effects
2.Environmental Impacts (usually specified in legislation, policies or international agreements)
  • Natural resourcesNatural resources
    • Flora & fauna (biodiversity)
    • Food web
    • Land/Soil/ Wetland
    • Common/special species
    • Renewable/non-renewable resources
    • Water (surface/ground)
    • Air
    • Noise
    • Climate
    • Visual landscape
  • Visual amenity
  • Conservation & archaeology
  • Pollution (air, water, noise, solid wastes) 
  • Land impacts: area potentially affected
  • Utilities
  • Transportation (linkages)
  • Telecommunications
  • Buildings and sites
  • Open space & recreation
  • Toxic substance
  • Risk/hazard
3.Community impacts
  • Population
  • Service impacts: education, social security, housing, transportation, mobility, etc.
  • Impact on identity
  • Health and hygiene
  • Cultural & heritage impacts
  • Impacts on different groups:
    • The impacted communities, e.g. current owners/occupiers, users of site, employees, tourists, visitors, NGOs, etc.
    • The functional community, e.g. developer/ financier
    • The administrative community, e.g. city governments involved in the project
    • The planning authorities
    • The national community
    • A collection of governments when the impacts of projects go beyond the boundaries
    • The public interest, e.g. taxpayers

Source: synthesised from various sources by the author.




    Academy for Sustainable Communities, Making Places: Creating Sustainable Communities, downloaded from, accessed in August 2014.

    Biomimicry 3.8. Life’s principles, from, accessed in May 2015

    Cameron, J. and Gibson, K. (2001). Shifting Focus: Alternative Pathways for Communities and Economies—A Resource Kit, Latrobe City, Traralgon and Monash     University, Melbourne, Victoria. From in September 2012.

    Canton of Berne (2008), Sustainability Compass Guide, Canton of Berne, Berne, available at .

    Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, South Africa (2002). Manual for Sustainable Neighborhood Development. Available from:, visited on 20th April 2004.

International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (1996). The Local  Agenda 21 Guide: An Introduction to Sustainable Development Planning.  Toronto: ICLEI.

Ng, M.K. and Chan, A. (2005). A Citizen’s Guide to Sustainable Planning in  Hong Kong: Concepts and Processes, Hong Kong: Community  Participation Unit, Department of Architecture, The Chinese University of  Hong Kong and Centre of Urban Planning & Environmental Management,  The University of Hong Kong

     Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2010). Guidance on Sustainability Impact Assessment, from accessed in May 2015.Project for Public Space. What Makes a Successful Place?, from, accessed in August  2014

  Wildflowers Institute (2005), A Theory Toward Building Socially Sustainable Communities, downloaded on 15 May 2014 from, p.13

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