How do theories help us understand and change ‘the city’?



The present study is interested in exploring the role and significance of theories in understanding and description of social and physical phenomena existing all around us. The research will pay special focus on the city and town planning by discovering its association with Collaborative Planning perspective. One of the most essential reasons behind carrying out this research includes highlighting the need and importance of articulating, testing and accepting or rejecting the theoretical frameworks on one side, and elaboration of vital role of theories in the exploration and development of different areas of knowledge attributed to social and natural sciences. The research will also discuss the role of collaborative theory in urban development. Hence, the present paper will elaborate the need and significance of collaboration of different institutions in better and more effective town planning and development.

Nature and Significance of Theories

There is no second opinion in the reality that theories serve as the roadmap for all the research works to be carried out in future (Ritzer, 2008). In other terms, theories invite the curiosity of the individuals to make observation, develop hypothesis, determine variables, make in-depth investigation, collect evidence, analyse and interpret the findings, and reach out a concrete conclusion subsequently (Coser, 2013). As a result, theories enjoy central status in developing, accepting and testing various propositions and hypothesis in almost all areas of individual and collective human life. By looking into the growths and progresses humans have witnessed during the course of time, it becomes evident that the articulation and devising of countless theoretical frameworks related to multiple disciplines have played central role in respect of discovering new facts and deciding and determining of new rules and principles for them (Coser, 2013). Besides, theories have also made valuable contributions in examining the previous facts and laws, where some of them were rejected through new researches, while many also got endorsed by finding empirical evidences in support of them. Consequently, Plato’s Theory of Knowledge and Truth, Newton’s Law of Gravity, Darwin’s Evolution Theory, Homan’s Social Exchange Perspective, Marx’s Social Conflict Theory, Freud’s Oedipus Complex, Lombroso’s Criminology Theory, and countless other perspectives have turned out to be highly advantageous and beneficial for establishing the scientific principles, social norms, cultural values, economic rules, social taboos, mores, traditions, conventions and political and state laws for the last several centuries in best interest of humanity (Zaidi, 2016). Hence, all natural and social sciences from Physics and Biology to Psychology and Economics, and from Sociology and Criminology to History and Political Science, look entirely reliant upon articulation and application of theories for their growth and development for the future decades to come. As a result, theories serve as the guiding stars, which illuminate the path to knowledge, wisdom and glory for the coming generations; same is also the case with Collaborative Planning Theory, which grants particular opportunities of growth and development in town planning and urbanisation provided the institutions join hands and work in close collaboration with one another for hitting the targets and achievement of common goals.

Brief History of Urban Planning

Theorists seek the history of urban planning and development as old as the history of human development. The relics of ancient civilisations provide ample evidences in support of the plans and schemes introduced by the authorities and societies during the primitive eras (Ember & Ember, 2013). The ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and India endorse the establishment of streets and broad ways in primitive eras, where sewerage system, housing and royal palaces and administrative areas, judicial courts and commercial zones had been constructed in ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian societies. The excavations maintain that the Egyptian Pharaohs had introduced separate residential plans for the royalty, clergy, commoners, foreigner visitors and slaves (Brier, 2005). These areas were constructed in accordance with the royal decrees, which would not allow mixing of the masses with royalty on one side, and undue interaction of the slaves with the Egyptian people on the other (Brier, 2005). In the same way, historical records also confirm the establishment of administrative and judicial zones in the ancient city-states of Greece and Rome (Plato, 2010). Nevertheless, history of urban planning perspective is somewhat one of the disciplines, which appeared very late in theoretical form than they have been in vogue for centuries. Consequently, theory of urban planning is viewed to be appeared by the beginning of twentieth century (Bliemer et al., 2016). It was the era, when the concept of internal and external migrations had obtained profound popularity. As a result, the flow and mobility of the populations from under-developed to developed countries and from rural to urban areas witnessed a tremendous increase at a very fast pace. As a result, the societies witnessed the considerable variations in the demographic scenario across the world (Weeks, 2011). At this precarious state of affairs, the political authorities were urged to devise and implement the plans, which could be effective and beneficial for the allocation of populations in urban areas on one side, and cope up with the challenges of housing, law and order situation, crime control, jobs and employment opportunities, ethno-racial and religious conflicts and others (Macionis, 2008).  Since theories of urban planning were interested in providing the people with basic necessities essential for leading a comfortable life, the theorists ponder upon the development plans to be articulated and enforced with the consultation of the experts and stakeholders. Thus, the concept of Collaborative Planning Theory came into existence in a theoretical form by the first half of the previous century in wake of considerable changes took place in demographic statistics across the world.

Introduction to Collaborative Planning Theory

As the name suggests, the Collaborative Planning Theory tends to explain the nature, magnitude and significance of the communication and cooperation in respect of the schemes, strategies, ideas and views among the individuals, groups or institutions while chasing to carry out some plans, tasks or venture at professional, organisational, social or national scale. In other terms, collaboration planning perspective is interested in devising of plans and ideas and sharing the information, knowledge, experiences and expertise with the partners and stakeholders while implementation of plans of common interest and executing the same by applying best of the sources, energies and schemes at collective level (Lefevre et al., 2008). Attributed to Judith Inner (1995), the collaborative planning theory also suggests the roles played and responsibilities taken by different individuals and institutions as per their qualification, proficiency and skills in respect of execution of the schemes especially related to urban development programmes (Lane, 2005). For instance, a construction scheme may require passing of the bill or plan by being presented before the authorities or legislative council for the consideration and approval from the authorities regarding the alterations and reforms to be introduced in some particular area. Such area of interest can be construction and development policy, the experts and professors of architectural sciences, developers, stakeholders and legal experts will make a team for complete planning in collaboration with one another, so that an effective and flawless policy could be enforced for bringing improvements in the development plan on one side, and for the sake of enhancement of productive and corporate activities, better traffic flow, preservation of cultural heritage and income of the people associated with this field and profession directly or indirectly (Lefevre et al., 2008). Same strategy is also witnessed while making decisions in the areas of healthcare, education, immigration policy, town planning and several other areas of collective life at public and private levels (Goodspeed, 2016). The present study has selected Hong Kong for the topic under examination.

Hong Kong City and Urban Planning

Situated on the Pearl River Delta of East Asia, Hong Kong serves as an independent geographical territory, as well as one of the fastest growing cities of the contemporary era world. Despite its being one of the smallest autonomous city-states on the face of the globe, Hong Kong has witnessed tremendous growth and progress during the last few decades (New York Times, 2014). As a result, the city has obtained the status of one of the busiest and most profit generating corporate hubs on one side, and one of the most glamorous and recreational spots on the other. Since the city offers wide range of trade and business opportunities to the people belonging to every age-group and both the genders, the individuals across the world visit the city for seeking jobs and employments as well as for embarking upon trade and commerce ventures, along with consuming a quality leisure time at the city (NYT, 2014). Since the traders and job-seekers get settled in Hong Kong for permanent or long-term basis, population of Hong Kong has witnessed an upward trend for the last few years. As a result, the city-state has become the fourth most densely populated area of the globe. It not has created multiple problems associated with housing and traffic, and crimes and insecurity, but has also disturbed the life of local population to a great extent.

Challenges faced by the masses in wake of progress

Hong Kong has been blessed with the gorgeous beauties of Nature; on one side, it has been surrounded by beautiful hills and mountains, and on the other side, beautiful and captivating sea offers wide range of commercial and recreational opportunities to the city. Somehow, an unabated increase in commercial activities, and unflinching flow of foreigners across the globe has led to the construction of huge and tall buildings and escalators as per the growing requirements and commercial purposes. It has also created the problems for the masses in respect of fast vanishing of the traditional business ventures and styles that had been the identity marks of the city for decades (NYT, 2014). In the same way, construction of escalators and the skyscraper buildings has blocked the access of the people to the exposure of sunlight (Wong & Wan, 2009). In addition, skyrocketing commercial towers also look hurdles for environmental benefits, which should be reached to the people in form of fresh air, rain and other natural blessings to escape suffocation and smothering caused by thousands of factories working in the city. It not only causes lots of nitrogen and other anti-human gases by polluting the entire environment, but also the life of fauna and flora also looks in grave jeopardy subsequent to the existence of highly detrimental and suffocated environment of the Hong Kong city. As a result, the people began witnessing the arrival of foreigners and the commercial activities as a curse and great challenge for their social and cultural values and mobilisation within the city on one side, and for their health and fitness on the other.

In the same way, converting of playgrounds and stadiums into commercial centres may also eclipse the sports and recreational activities for the people (Wong & Wan, 2009). Somehow, the Hong Kong authorities perceived the difficulties of the masses and the challenges as visionary leadership, which has turned out to be supportive in respect of halting the obstacles, which may challenge the pace of progress and prosperity of the city. As a result, the master urban development plans were initiated and enforced to cope up with the growing population and density in the city during the last three decades (The Economist, 2007).

Town Planning in Hong Kong City

By taking the latest challenges of over population and density, which have resulted into creating grave problems in respect of healthcare and fitness, sports and leisure time consumption, and environmental, housing, clean water and law and order situation into serious considerations in Hong Kong, different state and public departments have started working in collaboration with one another in order to overcome the problems appeared in the city-state in wake of fast technological advancements and navigation revolution, within the political and geographical jurisdiction of the city (The Economist, 2007). Hence, the major departments, including police, healthcare, environmental protection, sports and recreation, and social welfare and crime prevention institutions have joined hands to work in collaboration with one another in order to make Hong Kong city to be a more prosperous, healthier and environmental friendly geographical zone of the world (

Town and urban development planning in Hong Kong is being transformed with the expansion of civil society and the development of various community movements within the city-state (Douay, 2010). They look posing a great challenge to the existing development plans and practices and throwing up conditions for a collaborative approach to urban planning, fashioning alternative strategies (Douay, 2010). Therefore, the administration has sought support from public and private sectors to take an active participation in the development plans in collaboration with one another. However, civil society and other local and regional human rights, wildlife and animal protection and other welfare societies and communities have also added their share through protests and struggles in the development programmes initiated by the administration. The civil society activists look for taking measures on the part of the government, which would create the state of equilibrium between the pace of commercial activities and hygienic and congenial environment to live in the city. As a result, the civil society demands for the establishment of collaboration between corporate sector, political and development authorities and civil societies, so that the commercial activities destroying the environment and culture could be checked in an adequate manner. It is worthwhile to note that only one fifth of the Hong Kong territory is built up, and almost two fifth of it is protected by the Country Parks Ordinance (Douay, 2010). As a result, the ordinance strictly prohibits commercialization of the parks, playgrounds and stadiums by turning them into commercial hubs or hotels or shopping plazas. The credit goes to public administration, civil society and even corporate sector, which instead of keeping on generating huge profits, observed a rational and prudent consideration to protect the future of the densely populated city.

Identical with rest of the successful and fast growing countries, the Hong Kong authorities are well-aware of the need and significance of devising and revising the strategies related to planning and development of the state ( Despite the fact that a sizeable number of masses look for sustainable development projects to be launched on long term basis in the city, there exists a considerable proportion of local and foreigner subjects, which insist on immediate relief to be provided to them through town planning and other construction works, which may turn mobilisation and commercial activities to be easier and comfortable for them ( It is partly due to the very reality that traffic jams and blockades due to high density and commercialisation appear to be disturbing social and corporate life to a great extent in the present day Hong Kong. Consequently, the Hong Kong administration is urged to come forward for the rescue of the masses on emergency grounds, so that the cultural heritage of the city could be preserved from going ruined on one side, and beauty of the city would be multiplied to meet the fast growing challenges on the other (The Economist, 2007).

The political authorities of the Hong Kong city-state are well alert and updated with all the changes taking place within the political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental spheres of the country and the world at large (Wong & Wan, 2009). It is therefore, separate development planning departments have been established at state level to devise strategies and work on the same to keep the fast pace of development in the city ( Despite the fact that the Planning and Lands Branch of the Development Bureau of Hong Kong is in charge of the policy portfolios of planning, land use buildings and urban renewal in the tiny but prosperous and business generating city-state of Hong Kong, it also seeks support from law enforcing agencies and environment protection departments during launching of all the development programmes through its vast platform (HK Planning Department, 2016). The main responsibilities have been allocated to the Town Planning Board (TPB) in Hong Kong, which examines all the construction, reconstruction and renovation projects and activities being launched in the city (HK Planning Department, 2016). In addition, the TPB is also responsible for formulating, monitoring and reviewing the land use and approving the construction plans to be initiated at state or private sectors within the geographical jurisdictions of Hong Kong. TPB does not allow start of making changes in the city without approval of the plan, as each and every development plan is strictly monitored and critically evaluated with the consideration that lest one constructive step may create problematic or destructive measures by challenging the human rights, wildlife or policy and programmes of the state.

Nevertheless, since the administration would not allow the allocation of powers to inexperienced and non-proficient individuals in the name of democracy and freedom; the experts in the fields of law, engineering, town planning and development, environmental sciences and affairs, and representatives of public and business sectors have been included in the planning and development programmes initiated in Hong Kong. Another important phenomenon associated with the Hong Kong socio-political establishment includes special social status and privileges attributed to the corporate class of the state, where business tycoons and industrialists and investors enjoy higher social status and recognition in Hong Kong than the politicians, bureaucrats and all other professionals in general (Douay, 2010). It is actually because of their valuable contributions in respect of making huge investment in different businesses, and helping the government in creation of jobs and providing support to curb unemployment and poverty (Douay, 2010). Besides, since the political administrations in most of the countries and states of the world have to start a powerful campaign for bringing foreign investment to their respective jurisdictions; in Hong Kong, the entire burden has been being managed by the corporate class of the state. As a result, no development plans are enforced and executed without the inclusion of business class through its representatives.

Contrary to the traditional urban planning in bureaucratic style, which was applied in Hong Kong from the era of the British control over the city, the modern development plans are made on scientific grounds while keeping the public interests at top priority. The administration has acknowledged the fact that no development would be beneficial and promising provided it looks clashing the public interests. The same can be witnessed in the twentieth century United States, where exclusion of the blacks had invited state of conflict across the country, and had put the progress and prosperity at stake in wake of the riots and demonstrations of 1960s in USA (X, 1965). Marxist perspective has also derived the attraction of theorists, researchers, scholars and authorities towards the same.

Marxist perspective maintains that in case the bourgeoisie (investors and businessmen) take control of the business activities, and obtain major share of the profit earned through the hard toil and efforts made by the workers and labourers, feelings of alienation would start haunting their minds (Ritzer, 2008). Consequently, not only this that the workers would pay less heed to their duties and professional obligations, but also they will start raising revolts against the exploitation at the hands of the investors, thus reversing the pace of growth subsequently. Such a scenario also leads to the state of chaos and anarchy, which tends to cause political and economic destabilisation subsequently (Ritzer, 2008). Since the Hong Kong authorities have already realised these facts, they do not articulate any development plans, which may put the public interest at stake, and can invite anger and wrath from the masses.

One of the distinguished features attributed to the Hong Kong administration includes the state’s ownership of the entire land of the city-state (Douay, 2010). Hence, some Marxist and Socialist features can be found in the political and economic system of Hong Kong. One of the most essential advantages associated with the nationalisation of lands includes the proper and adequate employing of the small state area in the best interest of the nation. Such a wise and prudent decision has turned out to be beneficial with regard to protecting the land from misuse and exploitations at the hands of private ownership. Had the private owners powers of buying, selling or employing the land in accordance with their wishes and needs, its major part would have been allocated for commercial use, resulting into the perishing of the parks and playgrounds from Hong Kong.

Nevertheless, it does not mean that the Hong Kong authorities have clipped the powers of the private entrepreneurship by keeping them away from planning and development ventures of the city. On the contrary, the administration has been working under the conventional patriarchal way by empowering the masses with the facilities of starting and expanding their private ventures along with participating in the development programmes under the public works. The same has witnessed further acceleration in wake of the fast extending globalisation process, which tends to render economic and entrepreneurial activity more volatile (Douay, 2010). Consequently, the government has assured views and opinions of the corporate sector on the eve of starting construction of towers, buildings, escalators, and while launching the road, bridges, underpasses and other construction plans. Since the Hong Kong government was already interested in introducing the measures, where the investors and bureaucrats could develop building strategies of cities tend by imitating the plans of each other, it gave free hand to the TPB to consult the concerned business tycoons and work in collaboration with them in respect of designing, architecting and developing conference and exhibition centres, high speed train stations buildings and office towers for recreational, commercial and security purposes. Hong Kong’s International Finance Centre (IFC) is typical of this evolution, having enlisted star architect Cesar Pelli for its imposing second tower (Douay, 2010).

To conclude, it becomes evident that the urban and town development planned applied in Hong Kong reflect the true picture of collaboration planning theory.

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