Kate Sewell

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Speaking back to gentrification’s global reach: urban aspirations and state-led urban renewal in Hong Kong

Close engagement with multiple actors involved in Urban Renewal Authority (URA)-led urban renewal in Hong Kong reveals relationally diverse and competing urban aspirations. These aspirations are shaped by global and local processes and are messy and dynamic in nature. Comparing these aspirations highlights multiple motivations, rationalities, and uneven power dynamics at work within URA-led urban renewal processes and practices. These findings support postcolonial urban scholars' argument that urbanisms are irreducible to a single theory or metanarrative (Derickson, 2015; Leitner & Sheppard, 2016) and their commitment to developing new and emergent theoretical concepts that provoke relational thinking about place, knowledge, and power (Roy, 2016).

This paper utilises urban aspirations as an emerging concept of postcolonial urban theory to identify and explore the dynamics and effects of competing urban aspirations within the URA-led urban renewal process in Hong Kong. I demonstrate how urban aspirations can speak back to the taken-for-granted global reach of the concept of gentrification. Drawing on data collected on URA-led urban renewal processes and practices in Hong Kong over two years (2017-2018), I make three key arguments: Firstly, urban aspirations drive urban renewal processes and practices and are entangled with wider local and global processes. Secondly, outcomes of urban renewal are not limited to pre-determined, western-inspired conceptualisations of gentrification.

Thirdly, the dynamics of urban aspirations within URA led urban renewal process and practices in Hong Kong reveals how alternative urban development trajectories are acted out at the neighbourhood level.

Kate Sewell is a Ph.D. candidate in Geography at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. She has worked in the not for profit sector in Hong Kong and Auckland and most recently worked with local government in Auckland as an independent consultant in the area of inclusion and diversity. Kate’s research interests are in urban governance namely, strategies of depoliticization and resistance within urban development processes and practices. She is currently writing her thesis which is utilising the lens of post-politics in conjunction with emerging concepts of post-colonial urban theory to explore the ways power, politics, and participation affect inclusion within urban regeneration practices in Hong Kong.


University of Waikato