Urban and Regional Studies

Overview

Research in the Urban and Regional Studies cluster covers a wide range of sub-disciplinary topics and approaches in urban, economic, cultural, social and transport geography. We use qualitative and quantitative methods to study the spatial characteristics of the human world with a particular focus on Hong Kong and China. Specifically, our research addresses gaps in knowledge about how contemporary urban and regional transformations are affecting people and places.

Featured Research

GRF Project (PI: Prof Bailey J. Adrian) Housing Security among Urban Migrants in Hong Kong, Atlanta and Pretoria

This study tries to deepen understanding of migrant housing security by examining how legal status and the activities of FBOs affect place – specific levels of precarity.

Housing is a basic human necessity that can unlock access to improved health and wellbeing, including sense of belonging to place. But rapid urbanization means that, globally, over a billion people face inadequate or insecure housing conditions. As a result, the United Nations has made the idea of housing security a central part of its current “new urban rights” agenda. However, there is no standard international definition of housing security. Nor is there a sophisticated understanding of how migrants – who often drive urbanization – experience housing insecurity. For example, it is unclear how legal status, or the expanded role of Faith Based Organizations (FBOs) affects the security of housing for migrants. This international collaboration builds knowledge of housing security by looking at the experiences of urban migrants, a group we define as persons who were born outside of, and have been living in an urban area for less than a year.

We have four objectives. Our first objective is to deepen understanding of migrant housing security by examining how legal status and the activities of FBOs affect place – specific levels of precarity. Our second objective is to develop a neighborhood-based Index of Housing Security for Migrants with stakeholders. The third objective is to translate our enhanced conceptual and empirical knowledge into better policy. Our fourth objective is to improve the quality of public engagement about housing for migrants.

This 30-month project conducts a comparative analysis of housing security in two case-study neighborhoods in Hong Kong, Atlanta, and Pretoria (six total). These are key urban areas to study because they have difficult housing issues, distinct definitions of migrant legal status, and diverse and influential FBOs. Using the Participatory Action Research method we recruit a Steering Group (SG) in each urban area to gain stakeholder inputs from government, FBOs, the property sector, long-term residents and migrants. Primary data are collected using semi-structured interviews with 30 migrants and 6 FBOs in each urban area. These data are analyzed to build grounded theory and calculate initial values of the Index. We then re-calibrate and standardize this Index on the basis of focus groups with migrants, FBOs, and government representatives.

Research outputs include scholarly articles, policy briefs, and opinion pieces. Involving local stakeholders in the research design and execution increases public engagement with debates about housing rights and migration. We also offer research experience to undergraduates and, by reflecting on their work, develop new curricula materials on participatory research methods. The research has a long term impact upon the international understanding of migrant housing issues under continuing urbanization.

GRF Project (PI: Dr Him Chung) An Investigation of Rights to Chinese Cities

This research will seek to advance the investigation of ‘right to the city’ in urban China.

This research will seek to advance the investigation of ‘right to the city’ in urban China. There is a growing interest to engage Lefebvre’s (1996) idea of ‘right to the city’ in urban China but existing works are concentrated on the identification of ‘whose’ right needs to be protected. A deep engagement which including discussions on the nature of rights and justice in Chinese cities and its relationship with urban politics has yet to be found. Nevertheless, given the sharp differences between China and liberal democratic societies and the profound meaning of the idea, adapting the idea to China needs to be done with care. It is the objective of this research to develop a Chinese version of rights to the city. Focusing on the everyday lives of urban residents, this research aims to provide on-the-ground evidence to demonstrate: (a) the various ways in which urban residents conceive their rights; (b) how their conception is translated into real actions; and (c) the spatial dimension of their conception and actions. Through these issues, at the theoretical level, this research seeks to address how is Lefebvre’s ‘right to the city’ relevant to China. The investigation of how different social groups conceive their rights to the city will take place in Guangzhou city. Different neighbourhoods inhabited by native villagers, migrant workers, professional migrants and local urban residents (both as homeowners and tenants) and involved in any form of space contest will be investigated. These target groups will be the primary unit for analysis and their neighbourhoods, including villages-in-the-city, urban quarters and gated communities, will constitute the major research sites. A case study approach will be used to examine the way that different target groups conceive right in contested urban spaces. Key platers involved in the contest of spaces will be identified and their relationships and negotiations with the target groups will be examined. Ethnographic methods, such as participant observation and semi-structured interviews will be employed to collect detailed first-hand information.

GRF Project (PI: Prof Donggen Wang) Exploring the Inter-generational Trends in Daily Travel Behavior in Hong Kong and Shenzhen

This research investigates the possible changes in travel behavior between generations in Hong Kong and Shenzhen.

Transport demand and travel behavior may vary not only from day to day but from generation to generation. Until recently travel behavior research has been more concerned about short-term travel behavior variations than long-term changes and trends in travel demand. While study on day-to-day variations of travel demand is important for designing policies for managing the daily operations of transport systems, investigation into the long-term trends in travel behavior is crucial for strategic development of transport systems and decisions about investment in transport infrastructures. This is particularly important for countries like China, which are rapidly developing and uncertain about future transport growth and its environmental implications. A better understanding of past and possible future trends in car ownership, car usage and long-term transport developments are vital so that transport demand can be assessed and catered for in an efficient and environmentally sustainable way This research will investigate the possible changes in travel behavior between generations in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. The Shenzhen case will provide evidence on the change patterns in car ownership, car usage and travel demand in a newly and fast motorized society; the Hong Kong case will serve to answer the question if individuals’ demand for daily travel in a public-transport dominated developed society has stabilized and why. The study of both cases will contribute to the emerging literature concerning the possible saturation of travel demand and the so-called ‘peak car’ or ‘peak travel’ debate in travel behavior research, by widening the existing study scope and applying a new analytical and modeling approach through conducting empirical studies in two neighboring cities at different development stages. Overall, this research will advance knowledge of long-term changes in activity-travel behavior. The outcomes of this research should be highly relevant for developing transport policies that can accommodate long-term changes in travel behavior and transport demand.

Featured Publications

This paper argues that the sociolinguistics of globalization is accompanied by a constitutive scalar politics. Based on ten interviews with Korean professionals in Hong Kong, we report that Korean migrants’ use and experience of English is characterized by competing language ideologies we identify as: Pragmatic English/Perfect English, Multilingualism/English Only, and Global Language/Local Language. Tensions within these ideologies were revealed as respondents referenced the contexts of their daily lives as intersecting sets of geographic, temporal, and social scales. We discuss how sociolinguistic relations associated with the transnational lifecourse, hybridizing identity, and racialization were imagined in ways that re-negotiated these scales to serve the interests of the participants and provide coherence to their communicative practices. Sociolinguistic relations both reference scales and constitute them. We conclude that attending to scales and scalar politics provides a better explanatory framework for the ways the uneven linguistics markets of globalization are negotiated by transnational subjects.

The influence of the built environment on travel behavior has been the subject of considerable research attention in recent decades. Scholars have debated the role of residential self-selection in explaining the associations between the built environment and travel behavior. The purpose of this study is to make a contribution to the literature by adopting the cross-lagged panel modeling approach to analyze a panel data, which scholars have recommended as the ideal design for studying the influence of the built environment on travel behavior accounting for the residential self-selection. To that objective, we collected activity-travel diary data from a sample of 229 households in Beijing before and after they moved from one residential location to another. We developed a two-wave structural equation model linking the residential built environment to travel behavior and taking into consideration travel-related attitudes before and after residential change. The modeling results show that individuals’ travel attitudes may change after a home relocation. We found no evidence of residential self-selection, but significant influence of the built environment on travel preference. Nevertheless, the direct influence of travel preference on travel behavior seems to be stronger than that of the built environment. As one of the very few studies to use panel data, this research presents new insights into the relationship between the built environment and travel behavior and the role of residential self-selection.