Neighbours in an Age of Mobility

Professor YIP Ngai-ming and Professor Ray FORREST of the Urban Research Group from the Department of Public Policy are currently working on a scientific research project “Neighbourhood in an Increasingly Mobile Society”. This project is funded by the Hong Kong Research Grants Council (RGC).

The neighbourhood is an important arena, not only in creating people’s identity and social networks, but also for many government policies which aim to solve social problems. However, as individuals become increasingly mobile and the need to interact with neighbours decreases, we have to ask whether the concept of neighbourhood is still as significant as it used to be.

There is ample evidence that patterns of mobility are highly varied among people of different backgrounds and that mobility differentials may be widening. Therefore, it could be that the neighbourhood will continue to be a significant factor, but its impact may not be the same for these different groups of people.

To investigate this, our project will use a smartphone app, newly developed by the research team, to track people’s mobility and activity patterns. The data will be combined with information on personal attributes to be gathered from a survey and feedback from other sources to examine how greater mobility is changing people’s sense of neighbourhood and the way they interact with those who live nearby.

Hong Kong, with its efficient public transport system and a large but relatively mixed public housing sector, offers a distinct research site. It will also allow for interesting comparisons with the findings of similar research work conducted in the very different urban contexts of cities in the United States. The research should offer valuable insights on social mix and neighbourhood-based social policy. It should also help to inform and expand the theoretical debate on neighbourhoods within the new types of mobility.

So far, things are still in the early stages. The app, which the research team has developed in collaboration with the AppLab at City University, has undergone some substantial revisions. Now, though, we are inviting participants to install the app and the data collection phase is beginning. The target is to have 800 participants from all over Hong Kong. This is seen as the best way of achieving a random sample of spatial and social distribution.

A rigorous sampling strategy has been employed to pick addresses in a wide range of districts and representing different types of housing. Thousands of letters will be posted to potential participants before finalising the test group. Those selected will be asked to record data on their movements, after which the research team will conduct a telephone survey conducted to collect information on their sense of neighbourhood and other relevant points.

In the second stage, we will conduct a sample survey on groups, for example the elderly, who do not have mobile phones or use them much less. This is to present a contrast in terms of mobility patterns and resulting sense of neighbourhood.

Publications and achievements

A journal paper has already been published based on data collected from the pilot stage of this project.

Yip, N.M., Forrest, R., & Xian, S. (2016). Exploring segregation and mobilities: Application of an activity tracking app on mobile phone. Cities, 59, 156-163. doi. org/10.1016/j.cities.2016.02.003