Kathy Ng


Change without change: the suburbanization of Hong Kong's rural villages

R.d. Hill, Kathy Ng, Tse Pui Wan

Geographia Polonica (1989) vol. 58, pp. 81-98 | Full text

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The suburbanization of rural villages leads to the final stage in their transformation from agriculturally-oriented nodes of settlement and social units to their incorporation into cities functionally or formally or both. It thus represents a convergence of two major processes of geographical significance — the transformation of rural society and economy on one hand and urbanization on the other. The latter process has many facets but scholarship discerns these with rather varying degrees of clarity. Thus much more is known about the dimension of population growth than about spatial expansion of the city where basic problems of definition, not to mention difficulties of data sources, have hindered the precise delimitation of successive stages of growth. Even here, rather more is known of the spread of suburbs into hitherto rural areas than the less-obvious process by which small towns and villages on the metropolitan fringe are drawn into the functional fabric of the city, often while still remaining spatially separate.The incorporation of such settlement units is by no means a new phenomenon. In the 1820s, a village called Brooklyn became a dormitory for Manhattan. In West London, the British one, Acton was incorporated into the growing conurbation in 1861. But generally in the nineteenth century suburbs were essentially of two kinds: the detached villas of the very wealthy and the working-class "faubourgs" (Thorns 1972, 59). This distinction has remained to some degree despite the rise of the "mas suburb" based upon rapid transit of one kind or another, for some of the relatively-wealthy still seek the perceived benefits of a semi-rural life. Such people may be the harbingers of further change to mass suburbia which ultimately submerges, even obliterates the former rural settlement node as Dobriner's minor classic has indicated (summarized in Dobriner, 1972). Just how many such "invaded villages" there may be globally, and to what degree they are part of an overall suburban assault there is no knowing. In Japan, for example, Allinson (1979, 17) has suggested that few if any suburbs have developed on virgin soil for there has nearly always been a rural hamlet, often of considerable age, in the vicinity acting as the focus of settlement growth and itself being transformed by the invasion of "outsiders".

R.d. Hill, Department of Geography and Geology, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Kathy Ng, Department of Geography and Geology, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Tse Pui Wan, Department of Geography and Geology, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong