Community Well-Being and Wholeness –  The Case of AIRSIDE at the Kai Tak Development Area

Community Well-Being and Wholeness – The Case of AIRSIDE at the Kai Tak Development Area

Urban commons, community empowerment, self-governance for sustainability, use of latent resources, creation of blended value.

By Joyce Chow, The Centre for Civil Society and Governance, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.


Wholeness pertains to a way of life in which individuals freely pursue aspirations and goals which they treasure, meaningfully participate in community which they call “home”, and responsibly utilize and manage the natural and built environment which they take ownership of; individual pursuits, in turn, generate and enrich social and physical capital which makes the community stronger and the environment more sustainable. With wholeness in place, individual self-actualization and community prosperity are embedded within and reinforce each other.  “In Time Of” Programme – “Developing a Resilient City” is Nan Fung Group’s vision. It was launched in 2020 as the Group’s social co-creation and community engagement initiative aiming to connect people from all walks of life through social partnerships in sustainability, social design, and culture and arts. Based upon the concept of “wholeness”, AIRSIDE is keen to connect people, space, and nature as a way to attain community well-being and betterment for the Kai Tak Development (KTD) areas and its neighbouring communities. The “In Time of” engagement programme was launched at AIRSIDE with a view to working with members of local communities to attain wholeness and, hence, community well-being.

Centre for Civil Society and Governance (CCSG) at The University of Hong Kong (HKU Lab) is engaged in developing a systematic and evidence-based impact measurement for the Airside Engagement Programme, and designing Collaborative Economy Scheme to help foster the community connection and co-create a unique community brand.


Enhancing Community Well-being for Sustainability

As an ever-growing and evolving global city, Hong Kong has been undergoing rapid growth and development since the post-WWII period. However, rapid growth may be accompanied by uneven development and even urban decay in some parts of the city. There is, therefore, an urgent need to enhance the well-being and improve the livelihood of those staying in the older and more run-down neighbourhoods. This is the case of the KTD, a prime area in Hong Kong and was once Hong Kong’s gateway to the rest of the world. It sits on a five-kilometre coastal access approaching Victoria Harbour with a cluster of long-established local neighbourhoods in its hinterland.

The KTD is typical of a mixed neighbourhood where new developments were built in an old district. KTD was home to the old Kai Tak Airport; it includes Kowloon City, Ma Tau Wai, and San Po Kong. Much of the KTD area was developed in the 1950s to 1970s, giving these neighbourhoods distinctive post-war characteristics. The area consisted basically of factory buildings, public housing, and private housing for lower-middle-class families. New buildings began to replace older ones after the airport was relocated in 1998, with the KTD being the most recent development in the area. There are tremendous changes in the physical surroundings, demographic composition, and business types with the emergence of these new developments. Franchises and chain stores have gradually replaced mom-and pop shops (e.g., hardware, stationery, grocery, and toy), which featured prominently in the KTD. Residents of these new communities may often be seen as having a more prestigious lifestyle than their counterparts. Little by little, the area is witnessing the formation of two communities, separated by the spending divide; each has little to do with the other. However, communal facilities are still shared, and future developments need to cater to both. There is, therefore, a need to bridge the two communities, making KTD home to both.


The Concept of Urban Commons

This Project is a collaborative effort between CCSG, a major real-estate developer in Hong Kong, and several nonprofits in social services and the environment to co-develop a framework and networked strategy for making social change. A local district characterized by a combination of mature residential neighbourhoods and redeveloped high-end shopping mall and office buildings has been chosen as the site for experimenting a community currency scheme and various community-building programmes.

As wholeness is built on rich social bonds among members of community and harmonious interactions between people and nature; connecting the members—local residents, businesses, associations and relevant stakeholders—and building among them reciprocity and trust and an appreciation of environmental stewardship is key to attaining wholeness. To explore what local community members treasure and aspire to attain, a community-wide survey and a series of engagement workshops were conducted to gauge members’ views.  Based on information collected, three components constitutive of the desired Community Brand were identified:


Cultural Heritage: To conserve the rich history and cultural heritage and to make it part of the Community Brand, members of the community aspire to enmesh it in community life, to leverage it for inspiring new art and cultural activities, and to utilize it for generating blended value beneficial to the community.


Inclusive Community: Building rapport between the new and old communities with a view to leveraging the complementarities for mutual betterment is both a challenge and an opportunity.

Members of the community aspire to make inclusiveness and care a defining feature of the Community Brand.  They are keen on building a caring and inclusive community in which members of different backgrounds—the middle-class and the grassroots, the old and the young, the newcomers and the long-time residents—relate to one another with respect and care; and are able to work together to cope with collective challenges.


Open Spaces: Open spaces are not only venues in which people connect and interact with one another in their daily lives, they are also essential resources with which community members co-create possibilities and pursue their aspirations in collaboration with each other. Members of the community aspire to augment and fully utilize open spaces for improving the community’s liveability; and to brand their community as one characterized by openness, connection, and social vibrancy.


Our Research

Urban resilience and sustainability have long been topics of interest among researchers in search for ways for cities to enhance its resilience towards risks and crises and to achieve the well-being for their inhabitants. The concept of social capital argues that community resilience and reciprocity could only be nurtured when the interests of the community stakeholders are nested (Falk & Kilpatrick, 2000). These interests could be expressed in the forms of trust, outlook in life, sense of belonging, etc. (Putnam, 1993). While it is commonly accepted that social capital are the building blocks of community resilience, the question of how to model collaborative interactions among community members from different walks of life remains unresolved.

“Urban commons” are about making collective decisions on the allocation of resources by members of the community (Fournier, 2013). There are creative ways of “communing” that achieve different level of effective collaboration and interaction. Through the proposed community engagement events and/or activities to be designed for “Airside” at Kai Tak Development site, it is hoped that the communal and collective elements could enhance the community’s sense of relationship with not only other community members and the place itself, but also come to respect the shared resources and values that binds the community together. This shared resources and values among the community members is then expected to inspire a series of nested community-based commons, which is a new mode of resource management that “places an emphasis not on monetary value but on a wealth of knowledge, information, affects and social relationships” (Casarino, 2008); these “new social and economic values and have an important role in ‘recommoning’ the assets necessary for a community to sustain collective activities in the [community] and beyond” (Brown et al, 2012). Some initial research questions are:

  • What are the definitions and institutional design of commons that can contribute to the goal of achieving sustainability and local-global wholeness for the Kai Tak community and its surrounding neighborhoods?
  • What are the determining factors and ways for incubating community-based commons?