Urban and
Regional Studies
urban areas

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.

travel behavior in shenzhen1

GRF Project (PI: Prof Donggen Wang) Urban expansion and travel behavior evolution in Shenzhen: the role of travel time budget

The impact of the built environment on travel behavior has received extensive research attention around the world over the past decades. Different study designs and various sophisticated modeling approaches have been used to estimate the impact. However, most of the existing studies assume that the impact of the built environment on travel behavior is time-invariant, ignoring the fact that such impact may change over time especially over the course of urban expansion.
Recognizing these long-term trends are crucial to accurately evaluate the influence of land use policies on transport demand. Further, there is a long-time debate on the existence of a stable time budget that people are willing to spend on daily travel. Urban expansion may lead to further apart of activity locations such as home and workplace and thus the need for longer travel time. On the other hand, the spatiotemporal constraints limit people’s time available for daily travel. Investigating the dynamics of the built environment and travel behavior will shed light on the constant travel time budget hypothesis. To fill these gaps in the literature, this research is proposed to utilize data from periodical travel surveys that are usually conducted in major cities to investigate the built environment-travel behavior connection from a long-term dynamic perspective. We will first explore the dynamic trends of both the built environment and travel behavior over the course of decades. Methods like propensity score matching (PSM) and hierarchical age-period-cohort (HAPC) model would be used to address the age, period, and cohort effect in travel behavioral changes. We shall pay special attention to the trends of daily travel time to shed light on the constant travel time budget hypothesis. Further, we shall apply latent class structural equation model (SEM) to examine the long-term dynamics of land use impacts on travel behavior. We propose to conduct the empirical study in Shenzhen, China for the urban expansion and transport developments that Shenzhen has experienced over the past decades and the availability of large scale household travel surveys in multiple years. Academically, this research will enrich the literature on the built environment-travel behavior connection with a dynamic perspective and provide evidence concerning the constant travel time budget hypothesis. Practically, the outcomes of this project will deliver useful policy information for future urban planning and land use based mobility strategies, especially for cities in emerging economies.

innovation shenzhen

GRF Project (PI: Prof Chun Yang) Evolving Spaces and Scales of Innovation in China: The Emergence of Makerspace Innovation in Digital Fabrication in Shenzhen

Research on innovation processes in China has been mainly conducted at national and regional levels, whereas studies at individual and community levels, such as on makerspaces that have emerged since the 2010s, are limited. Digital fabrication technologies, such as additive manufacturing (3D printing), advanced automated equipment and artificial intelligence (AI), have become increasingly accessible for independent innovators and maker communities at various sites of makerspaces. Despite the implications of the intertwined development processes being acknowledged in policy circles, makerspaces as emergent spaces and scales of innovation in digital fabrication remain poorly understood and under-researched, in comparison with formalized innovation activities in traditional production. Existing literature on makerspaces has focused on local networks in specific territories, but research on extra-local connections of makerspace innovation is scant. Studies on technological innovation systems have largely neglected the distinct spatial effects of digital fabrication, especially in the emerging makerspaces in the global south, such as China. Drawing upon the multi-scalar relational perspective in economic geography, which is developed to study the non-territorially bounded dimension of innovation, this project examines the emerging makerspace innovation in digital fabrication in China and particularly in Shenzhen, known as China’s Silicon Valley. This project has a threefold goal: 1) to identify the salient economic, social, cultural and institutional contexts and motivations in which the makerspaces have emerged and generated innovation in widespread digital fabrication; 2) to understand the nature, locational patterns, operation and organization of open-source innovation involving individuals and communities of makers in various makerspaces in association with digital fabrication technologies, particularly addictive manufacturing; and 3) to recognize the role of makerspace innovation in digital fabrication in the evolving dynamics and processes of innovation in China, especially their interconnections with the formalized innovation systems at the regional, national and global levels. The project will be conducted through on-site field investigation, participatory observation, semi-structured interviews and multi-case studies of the emergent makerspaces engaged in digital fabrication innovation in China and Shenzhen in particular. By extending the Western-oriented empirical research to China and particularly Shenzhen, the project contributes to the innovation research by shifting the focus away from the established firms and institutions and towards a comprehensive understanding of digital technological innovation involving individuals and communities of makerspaces. The project has practical implications for various innovators, producers and consumers of digital fabrication, as well as policy makers and practitioners at multi-scalar spaces in the digital age of the global economy.


GRF Project (PI: Dr Lachlan Barber) Heritage conservation and the creation of new urban values: A comparison of three historical sites in Hong Kong

Heritage conservation has gained increasing political, cultural and economic importance in urban redevelopment processes in Asian cities in recent years. Built heritage, including buildings and landscapes from the past that are recognized and revalorized with new uses and meanings in the present, has provoked extensive scrutiny and debate. In Hong Kong, community-based aspirations for greater protection of historic places, coinciding with growing interest in heritage on the part of the state and private sector actors, has led to several large-scale conservation projects in centrally-located areas with high land value. While research has examined heritage governance and management in Hong Kong, and attempted to explain and contextualize the ascendance of heritage, as yet there have been no in-depth studies of the ongoing impacts of heritage revitalization schemes. A comparison of projects completed over the last decade can reveal how the material outcomes of evolving conservation approaches reflect the shifting priorities of stakeholders in relation to broader urban processes. This project takes up such a comparison of three sites with historical uses related policing and law and order: the former Hollywood Road Police Married Quarters (PMQ), the former Central Police Station compound (Tai Kwun), and the former Marine Police Headquarters (Heritage 1881). The research will develop a new approach for conceptualizing how heritage conservation in urban Hong Kong produces contradictory and complementary economic and cultural values. Conservation schemes have involved the introduction of creative industries uses, such as studios and galleries, as well as spaces of consumption, such as boutiques and restaurants. But they are also spaces in which collective memory and community are articulated and affirmed. Comparing and contextualizing the material expressions of, and visitor engagements with, the values of heritage will develop new insights on the role of culture in urban change, and will enrich ongoing debate about gentrification and redevelopment and heritage as a public good. The project adopts a mixed qualitative methodology. Historical research will contextualize the study sites by investigating evolving place-based relationships between local residents, businesses, neighbourhood institutions and the colonial administration and HKSAR government. Participant observation, semi-structured interviews with stakeholders and visitors, and analysis of online social media will reveal the present-day characteristics of the sites, including a comparison of i) how historic architecture and spaces are valorized as heritage; ii) new uses introduced at the study sites; and iii) visitor experiences, including as expressed in images and content shared through online social media platforms.

travel hk shenzhen

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.

housing china

Wang, Y., Mao, Z. and Wang, D., 2021. Housing affordability and mental health in urban China: a cross-sectional study. Housing Studies. (published online) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02673037.2021.1888891

The mental health implications of housing affordability have recently received research attentions in different countries. This study examines this issue in the context of urban China, where housing affordability has become one of the most pressing social issues and its health implications have aroused academic interests. We aim to enrich the literature by specifying the mental health implications of housing affordability for different population groups and geographical regions. We focus on homeowners living in urban China. Data from the 2016 Wave of the China Family Panel Studies are used for the study. Models are developed for the whole sample and for subsamples of different socioeconomic backgrounds or from different Chinese regions. We find that the mental health impacts of housing affordability are significantly different for different population groups. For examples, though males are in general mentally healthier than females, they are more likely to mentally suffer from housing unaffordability than females; unaffordable housing owners with non-agricultural Hukou are more likely to sacrifice mental health than those with agricultural Hukou, despite that the former are mentally healthier than the latter; housing unaffordability costs mental health for people living in the Western region, but not for those living in other regions of China. We argue that these group differences in the Chinese context may be attributed to a number of factors distinguishing China from other countries including the Hukou system and the large regional differences in social and economic development.


Yang, C. & Chan, D. Y-T., 2021. Market expansion of domestic gaming firms in Shenzhen, China: Dilemma of globalization and regionalization. Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie 112 (3): 256-273

China's domestic mobile gaming firms, such as Tencent, which has developed into the world's biggest gaming firm by revenues in a short span, have outweighed the leading counterparts in the Western advanced economies. Despite an increasing attention has been paid to the global investment of Chinese gaming firms, this paper argues that their market expansion has focused on the selected Southeast Asian countries. This arguement is developed through the aurthors' extensive field investigation and personal interviews with games developers and publishers in Shenzhen, where Tencent is located, during the early 2017 and late 2019. We showcase that the protective multi-scalar institutions in which the Chinese gaming firms have dominated in the domestic market, have prevented the overseas market expansion of these firms. Although the government-designated extra-local inter-firm collaboration has helped narrow the technological gaps and articulate China’s firms into the global production networks, the market gaps between the domestic and western economies have not been overcome in the expansion to overseas markets. This study sheds light on that the market expansion of Chinese gaming firms has stucked in a dilemma between globalization and regionalization. While China’s domestic gaming firms, particularly Tencent, have been evolving into lead firms in the global games production networks, their market power has been confined at domestic and regional levels.