Dream of Rural Renewal in Ultra Urban Hong Kong

Hong Kong, September 2016

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In September 2016, the Global Institute For Tomorrow (GIFT) ran the second Hong Kong Young Leaders Programme (HKYLP) in collaboration with the Hong Kong Countryside Foundation. This followed the success of its inaugural HKYLP, held in August 2015.

Twenty-one young professionals and managers from business, government and civil society contributed to the HKYLP, which acts as GIFT's platform for cross-sector engagement and collaboration to resolve some of Hong Kong's most topical issues. In 2016, participants were asked to create a structure that would facilitate the revitalisation of Hong Kong's rural villages; after two weeks of classes, site visits, and intense work, the participants recommended a new entity—the "Rural Renewal Authority" (RRA)—to act as the nexus of all rural revitalisation efforts, policies and stakeholder engagement, and which would attract, manage and allocate funds.

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The HK Countryside Foundation was established to secure the "conservation and restoration of countryside... of Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong in Transition

Hong Kong, one of the world's most dynamic cities, is in a state of transition.

The city is undergoing social, economic and political shifts, and many are looking to raise awareness of the territory's internal challenges, from rising inequality to an economy reliant on the financial and property sectors. 


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During Module One of the Hong Kong Young Leaders Programme, participants developed a well-rounded understanding of how major world trends affect Hong Kong. Through debates and role-play exercises, the group built a greater appreciation for communication across sectors, industries and socio-economic backgrounds can shed new light on important topics.

Participants on the HKYLP listened to numerous prominent speakers, including:

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Mark Tucker—Group Chief Executive and President, AIA Group

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Christine Loh—Undersecretary for the Environment, HKSAR Government

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Chong Wai Yan Quince—Chief Corporate Development Officer, China Light and Power Group (pictured center)

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Shirley Yam—Columnist, The South China Morning Post (pictured left)

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C.Y. Lam—Advisor for the Hong Kong Countryside Foundation

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Katie Chick—Project Manager for the Policy for Sustainability Lab/HKU (pictured left)

Forgotten Gems in the Midst of Our Country Parks

The YLP uses real-world field projects to hone participants' practical skills, such as the ability to manage a diverse team in an unfamiliar situation. In the 2016 HKYLP, participants were asked to develop a novel institutional framework to steer rural revitalisation across the territory of Hong Kong.

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Hong Kong, despite being a major city and one of the world’s most densely populated regions, has one of the highest proportions of countryside for an urban city. About 75% of Hong Kong’s land is countryside and 24 country parks in Hong Kong cover just over 430 km2.

 


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There are 77 enclaves on privately-held land within these country parks. Once home to active agricultural and trading communities, mass emigration from the 1950s onwards and recent freezes on development have led to most of these villages being partially or completely deserted. 

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A Model for Village Revitalisation in Hong Kong

Lai Chi Wo is a 400 year old Hakka village nestled in Plover Cove Country Park, in the northeastern New Territories. The village was once one of the area's most affluent hamlets, with a population of 1000 residents at its peak. The area also has one of Hong Kong's oldest-surviving feng shui woodlands and one of the most biologically-diverse freshwater wetlands. 

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David Tsang, one of Lai Chi Wo’s representatives told participants the village’s history and architecture in front of the mural depicting an aerial shot of the village. 


A collaborative and multi-year rural programme – the “Sustainable Lai Chi Wo Project”  – was launched in 2013. The Project was co-organised by the Policy for Sustainability Lab/HKU (formerly known as the Kadoorie Institute/HKU), the Hong Kong Countryside Foundation and other partners. 

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The project includes the restoration of four old village houses which now house a small exhibition on traditional rice farming techniques and display information on the original building methods in Lai Chi Wo.

 

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The Feng Shui woodlands at the back of Lai Chi Wo protected the village from fires and attacks, and is home to several rare varieties and species of fauna and flora.


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David Tsang showed participants a satellite image of Lai Chi Wo from the 1950s that reveals the scale of the original farmland and rice terraces. 

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Participants experienced making traditional Hakka dumplings in a villager's home.

Proposing a Rural Revitalisation Institutional Framework

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Participants proposed to setup a government led organisation "Rural Renewal Authority (RRA)" by enacting a new ordinance.

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Through meetings with government, community and business leaders, and through frank and open discussions amongst themselves, participants learned to navigate conflicting and contradictory views to transform concepts and theories into realities on the ground.

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Participants challenged existing business models to create new ideas to solve practical issues. 

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Participants proposed that a cluster-based approach be taken whereby enclaves are grouped together into 10-15 clusters territory-wide. Each cluster would establish a new company limited-by-guarantee called a Village Renewal Foundation (VR) overseen by a board, the Village Cluster Committee (VCC) to coordinate and leverage resources and ensure the cultural and environmental heritage of each village is respected. After submitting a comprehensive proposal to RRA, the VR would receive initial funding to kick-start revitalisation efforts and ultimately create a thriving financially and environmentally sustainable rural economy.


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Lai Chi Wo and its four neighboring villages would form a pilot cluster. Each village's unique characteristic would be used to develop specialised attractions, enterprises and services. 

Below are some key services that the pilot Lai Chi Wo Village Cluster can develop:

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The Lai Chi Wo pilot cluster will need an initial investment of HKD 80 million and revenue is projected to reach over HKD 39 million in five years. The total initial capital injection needed to develop all 13 village clusters in Hong Kong is estimated to be HKD 1 billion.

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Presenting the Plan for a New Rural Renewal Authority

At a lively public forum held on September 30th 2016, participants presented their ideas on how to best support Hong Kong's villages, and their recommendation for a "Rural Renewal Authority" to an audience of local government officials, rural and village representatives, academics, potential investors and other members of the community. 

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Please contact Karim Rushdy for more information about the Hong Kong YLP, other projects held in Hong Kong, and future projects held by the Global Institute For Tomorrow.