I have been discussing the concept of collaboration in Bologna, Italy, under which the local community performs some general functions of government formerly assumed by the central authorities.
If New World Development is genuinely enthusiastic about renovating our harborfront, why doesn’t it cover the cost of the project and let civilian organizations and the community manage it together?
Recently, I received a copy of a brochure titled “Open Green Project” by the Taipei city government.
It seems that what exists only on paper in Hong Kong is now a reality in Taipei.
While Hongkongers are struggling to have access to the tiniest open space, our counterparts in Taipei have been designing and running their own neighborhoods.
That’s perhaps one more reason to move to Taiwan.
Under the project, the Taipei city government uses a bottom-up approach to improve and revitalize urban areas by encouraging residents to give their views on how to improve their communities.
This is done with the help of professional planners.
Since 2014, 10 Taipei neighborhoods have undergone a makeover, featuring community-friendly amenities such as “tool libraries”, open space for the elderly, rainwater recycling and urban farming facilities.
This year, the government hopes to invite an additional 15 neighborhoods to the project.
Unlike the so-called public consultation process on public projects in Hong Kong, which is often nothing more than a formality, public participation and input play a pivotal role in the Taiwan initiative.
The aim is to empower members of the community and create a resident-friendly environment across Taipei.
In August, Shi Pei-yin, a community planner and one of the supervisors of the project, came to Hong Kong to give a talk on neighborhood planning.
It was the first time I learned about Open Green Project.
Since 1999, the Taipei city government has been training community planners to help local residents improve their living environment.
In addition, they have been giving advice on how to make the most of public space.
Shi promotes the idea of space sharing — using vacant urban properties for a wide variety of cultural and community services.
For example, a small house in the Da An district, formerly owned by the Ministry of Defense, has been turned into a community center where people can get their electrical appliances fixed, share their tools and skills and attend small workshops on soap making.
Professor Yiu Chung-yim of the Chinese University brought up the subject of “empty property tax” in one of our recent conversations.
As we all know, Hong Kong has a lot of empty properties, an enormous waste of valuable land resources, imposing a heavy opportunity cost on our society.
Shouldn’t we just impose tax on owners of empty properties?
That’s what other places do in order to encourage property owners to rent out their premises to people in need?
Our economic model puts too much emphasis on private ownership and policymakers believe that only by upholding it can we generate economic growth and encourage market competition.
But unfettered private ownership often gives rise to monopolies and hoarding which could undermine market competition.
As a result, the government sometimes resorts to intervention to put things right, creating a perfect breeding ground for collusion between government bureaucrats and big business at the expense of public interest.
The article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 7.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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