Residential stratification and segmentation in the hyper-vertical city

Ray FORREST, Ka Sik TONG, Weijia WANG

Research output: Book Chapters | Papers in Conference ProceedingsBook Chapter

Abstract

An expanding literature argues that we need to raise our conceptual gaze when we consider the socio-spatial dynamics of the contemporary city. We need to look aloft to embrace and understand the social and spatial practices in built environments in which people are increasingly living and moving in urban space which is more intensively exploited. In the expanding cities of Asia, Africa and Latin America and in the cities of the older capitalist core countries, more people are living and working in high-rise and super high-rise buildings. Moreover, this vertical space is more densely utilized with advanced technologies, innovative design and closer integration of activities. This densification of space, this thicker urban space, is thus not only conceived of as involving greater height and depth but is also volumetric in character (Graham, 2016; Harris, 2015; Marvin, 2015; Karakiewicz et al., 2013).

However, research on cities has been, and remains, strongly horizontal in its orientation and rooted in the flatter, sprawling built environments of Europe, Australasia and North America. Although there is a growing literature on vertical urbanism, particularly from human geography, much of the research, such as the classic sociological studies of urban life (e.g. Jacobs, 1961; Gans, 1962; 1982; Fischer, 1982), reflects empirical studies undertaken some time ago and in much lower-rise cities and neighbourhoods. It is also generally very Western-centric.

Research on everyday life in high-rise environments is thus quite limited and most of it rather dated. There was, for example, a flurry of research on high-rise blocks in the 1960s and 1970s which was disproportionately focused on poorer households and mental health issues (see Gifford, 2007 for a general review; Costello, 2005), and was in relation to tower blocks which would be regarded as no more than medium-rise by today’s standards. And what is striking about much of this earlier urban literature is that the high-status housing is clearly somewhere else. In post-war Europe and North America, high-rise modernism was more closely associated with often badly conceived, low-quality, high-density solutions for low-income renters. The rich lived in more traditional apartments or in low-rise. In today’s lead cities, however, it is the elite who have moved upwards (Graham, 2016). This chapter contributes to this emerging literature on high-rise living and vertical urbanism through a consideration of how height is priced and how vertical space is thus stratified and segmented in the quintessentially vertical city of Hong Kong. This exploratory chapter focuses on three high-rise towers in three different areas of the city. The first is located in a central, prime location. The second is in the more peripheral, New Territories. The third is in one of the early New Towns, around 30 minutes from the city An expanding literature argues that we need to raise our conceptual gaze when we consider the socio-spatial dynamics of the contemporary city. We need to look aloft to embrace and understand the social and spatial practices in built environments in which people are increasingly living and moving in urban space which is more intensively exploited. In the expanding cities of Asia, Africa and Latin America and in the cities of the older capitalist core countries, more people are living and working in high-rise and super high-rise buildings. Moreover, this vertical space is more densely utilized with advanced technologies, innovative design and closer integration of activities. This densification of space, this thicker urban space, is thus not only conceived of as involving greater height and depth but is also volumetric in character (Graham, 2016; Harris, 2015; Marvin, 2015; Karakiewicz et al., 2013). However, research on cities has been, and remains, strongly horizontal in its orientation and rooted in the flatter, sprawling built environments of Europe, Australasia and North America. Although there is a growing literature on vertical urbanism, particularly from human geography, much of the research, such as the classic sociological studies of urban life (e.g. Jacobs, 1961; Gans, 1962; 1982; Fischer, 1982), reflects empirical studies undertaken some time ago and in much lower-rise cities and neighbourhoods. It is also generally very Western-centric. Research on everyday life in high-rise environments is thus quite limited and most of it rather dated. There was, for example, a flurry of research on high-rise blocks in the 1960s and 1970s which was disproportionately focused on poorer households and mental health issues (see Gifford, 2007 for a general review; Costello, 2005), and was in relation to tower blocks which would be regarded as no more than medium-rise by today’s standards. And what is striking about much of this earlier urban literature is that the high-status housing is clearly somewhere else. In post-war Europe and North America, high-rise modernism was more closely associated with often badly conceived, low-quality, high-density solutions for low-income renters. The rich lived in more traditional apartments or in low-rise. In today’s lead cities, however, it is the elite who have moved upwards (Graham, 2016).

This chapter contributes to this emerging literature on high-rise living and vertical urbanism through a consideration of how height is priced and how vertical space is thus stratified and segmented in the quintessentially vertical city of Hong Kong. This exploratory chapter focuses on three high-rise towers in three different areas of the city. The first is located in a central, prime location. The second is in the more peripheral, New Territories. The third is in one of the early New Towns, around 30 minutes from the city centre. The chapter uses publicly available transaction data on purchase prices and flat size. The prices are all expressed at 2017 levels.

The next section of the chapter offers a brief review of the relevant literature on stratification and segregation in high-rise environments. This is then followed by a background profile of Hong Kong’s extremely vertical built form before the chapter focuses on three key questions. First, how does the intersection between a horizontal and vertical axis shape the price of flats in Hong Kong? Second, what are some of the key determinants of price differentiation by height? Third, and more speculatively, how may these factors shape novel forms of social stratification and differentiation? The chapter concludes with some observations about the distinct nature of residential stratification and segregation in Hong Kong’s hyper-tall towers and the research challenges in this kind of vertical urban environment.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Urban Segregation
EditorsSako MUSTERD
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing Ltd.
Chapter20
Pages346-365
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781788115605
ISBN (Print)9781788115599
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020

Bibliographical note

Thanks to Chan Wau Chu for research assistance with regard to the Centadata dataset.

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    FORREST, R., TONG, K. S., & WANG, W. (2020). Residential stratification and segmentation in the hyper-vertical city. In S. MUSTERD (Ed.), Handbook of Urban Segregation (pp. 346-365). Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.. https://doi.org/10.4337/9781788115605.00028