研究員：tony poon及 hubert fung(理工大學社會政策及行政系)
The study on the relationship between the Urban Redevelopment Project and the Thai Community in Kowloon City District
Researchers: Tony Poon & Hubert Fung
I. Research Direction and Methodology:
First, we surveyed the perspectives and needs of Thai residents and shop owners before analyzing the impact of the current urban redevelopment policy. On the other hand, we used the standards developed by academics for sustainable urban development, called Sustainable Urban Renewal Project Assessment Model (SURPAM), to assess the support services and policies in connection to the Kowloon City Urban Redevelopment process. Finally, we made a proposal on thedirection of urban renewal policy.
This research was done within a period of 2 months:
- Literature review: thorough reviewing of articles, reports, and researches related to urban redevelopment, Kowloon City, sustainable development, andthe Thai community; After that,, we had decided to use the SURPAM model to assess the degree of sustainability “old district” redevelopment in Kowloon City, with a number of urban planning criteria relevant to the Thai community. These criteria include: provision of public spaces, facilities and services, local employment opportunities, upholding the characteristics of the community, sense of belonging of the community, and community participation in the redevelopment process.
- Ethnography: Participation in the Kowloon City Urban Renewal Concern Group’s in-person and online meetings and the counting of the total number of Thai small businesses in the old district; including grocery stores, general supplies stores, restaurants, and mezzanine shops.
- Questionnaire survey: Using a questionnaire that was already translated into Thai, we surveyed thirty-one shops. Originally, we wanted to do more, but on the one hand, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and on the other hand, we had hoped to conduct surveys with active Thai members of the Kowloon City Urban Renewal Concern Group. However, because many Thai residents are working hard and long hours at the grassroots level, it was difficult to arrange times that coincided with the open hours of shops. Therefore, out of more than 100 Thai shops, we visited about 30% of the total number of shops, which we hope to use as a reference.
- In-depth interviews: We invited Dang, the chairman of the Thai Workers’ Union in the current Kowloon City redevelopment area, and two local residents from Sa Po Road to conduct in-depth interviews on the needs of the Kowloon City community.
II. Summary of Research Outcome
During the survey, we discovered that most of these store owners started their businessesin Kowloon City. Over 60% of the businesses have been in operation for more than five years and 48% of the interviewed businesses have been open for over ten years. More than 70% of the stores have indicated that they had never been relocated and are at their original address. Furthermore, all the businesses that had been relocated had never left the neighborhood of Kowloon City. Over 90% of the interviewed stores participated in the festivities of Thai holidays such as Songkran, including donating funds and resources, opening stalls at their storefront, providing water and food to welcome festival participants of all ethnicities. Amongst the store owners, some have even bought roperties in the old district of Kowloon City, living and working in this neighborhood. According to the responses of the questionnaire, close to 70% of store owners said they are also living in Kowloon City. At the same time, 80% of respondents said they would have casual chats with customers and neighboring store operators and are not in the neighborhood simply to do business.
During our in-depth interviews, we came to understand that public space, public services, and public facilities are intimately linked to the neighborhood’s distinct characteristics and community networks. For example, currently both Chinese and Thai residents will participate in the Songkran celebrations; various Thai stores and organizations will also take part in the activities. But, as of now, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) only has a plan of an underground mall to accommodate existing Thai stores, and the new shops are expected to be occupied by big brands and chain-stores that would not tolerate the Songkran celebratory tradition of “water-throwing” and the clean-up afterwards. Even recently, during the June 2020 Town Planning Board meeting, URA said that for the festive celebrations, the residents should just make do with what they could, completely ignoring the fact that it takes a community a long time to come to develop the acceptance of a distinct culture, but this could also be easily destroyed in a mere second. At the same time, Songkran traditions not only consist of “water-throwing” but also parading around the entire neighborhood. In the past ten years, Thai and Chinese community members alike hadparticipated, and interviewees stressedthat the more proactive Chinese shopkeepers will even bring out their water hoses for everyone to enjoy the fun.
Moreover, Carpenter Road Park and Tak Ku Ling Road Rest Garden, locally referred to as “Big Park” and “Small Park” respectively, are extremely important to the Thai communityin Kowloon City. Community members said in the past, when there were no smartphones and Facebook, everyone would wait for each other in the parks on Sundays, sharing their woes about their hardships in work and their homesickness. Even now, everyone would rather congregate in the public spaces of these parks. The reasons being: firstly most of these folks are working class and Thai eateries are often unaffordable; secondly, they can cook whatever they like to eat and share their cooking with friends; and thirdly, people in the parks can converse and laugh as loudly as they want, unlike inside restaurants.
In terms of community services, the Thai Workers Union, which is situated in the redevelopment area, has been in Kowloon City since its inception. The Workers Union is important to many Thais in the area because if they ever come upon a labor issue, they can seek the guidance from the Union; on the other hand, even if they do not have any problems, they will spend their Sundays socializing at the Union’s place. The childcare services provided by the Lok Sin tong Benevolent Society is very important to working class families because it means one more member of the household can earn a salary that can be used to improve living conditions. Aside from these organizations, many Thai religious institutions provide mental and spiritual support. And many Thai collectives would mutually support each other as people coming from the same hometown, and would even pool money together to host festive activities, contributing to the local characteristics of the neighborhood. All of this would disappear and be lost if this community would have to be dispersed because of the relocation.
On the topic of employment opportunities in the original neighborhood, we discovered that many employees of local businesses and Thai people in the area do not speak fluent Cantonese or English. One can only imagine the significance of Kowloon City Old District as one of the only places with employment opportunities for Thai speakers, and hence, a crucial information network of employment-related communications for the Thai community. During our on-the-ground surveys, we also discovered that many stores allow theirThai employees to bring their children to work; these family-friendly practices in local businesses is an important benefit for Thai women workers. Simultaneously, the presence of the Thai Workers Union is a resource that provides essential assistance for labor disputes and exchange of workers rights and other employment-related information.
Most Thai people are working class folks who only have one rest day a week to take care of their material and personal needs. Currently, the grassroots community infrastructure of Kowloon City is able to serve all their needs, but once the community is relocated due to redevelopment, it is hard to say if this could still happen in the future.
In terms of community participation in the redevelopment process, many business owners and residents say that the freezing survey is inaccurate, but URA refused to make corrections and to meet with the Concern Group for negotiations. Most egregiously, the URA has said that they were unaware of the Thai population in the community at the very beginning of their outreach to the community and provided neither translation of documents nor interpretation during the population registration stage of the freezing survey. Therefore, Thai community members were not allowed access to the process, let alone meaningful participation. Also, even when the District Urban Renewal Forum (DURF), which has been defunct since 2014, set up its community review process for the renewal planning of Kowloon City, there were no translation services provided. None of the Thai community members have heard about this forum. Despite the fact that this community forum includes only the voices of Chinese community members, the concluding report indicated that the Kowloon City Old District should undergo an urban regeneration process, not a redevelopment one that is a complete upheaval of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, it is apparent that the URA did not take heed of the findings of this report and announced that the Kowloon City Old District is a Redevelopment Zone.
III. Policy Proposal: Relocation and Commercial Revival within the Original District
Our findings from this research and community engagement have proven to us that the ideal scenario for Thai residents and shopkeepers would be to stay in Kowloon City.
According to literature produced by the URA thus far and the Urban Redevelopment Plan submitted to the Town Planning Board on June 3, 2020, we conclude that URA has not considered any of the abovementioned six points. According to the Urban Renewal Authority Ordinance, the URA should aim to preserve a neighborhood’s distinctive characteristics and extant community networks as specified in the Urban Renewal Strategy. Their policies should accomplish relocation of residents and commercial revival of impacted businesses in the original area; only in this way will the URA fulfill requirements from government policies and the law and uphold the standards of sustainable redevelopment.
#泰華共融多元文化 #保存地區特式 #社區網絡 #保育小泰國