Two Cities Same Fate

A comparitive study with Martina Antonietti, Lan Haoyue, Liu Kai and Maite Rodríguez

The main theme that in different ways Hong Kong and Detroit share is the decline.

In Hong Kong the decline is more like a sensation that an era is ending, while in the second case the decline is evident, and the city tries to recover itself.

But, the two cities share many other aspects.


Both in the past they had an important attraction point in their respective contexts.

Detroit in 1920s became the 4th-largest city in the US and Hong Kong in 1997 represented the 20% of Chinese economy.

Everything changed for Detroit in the 1950s and 1960s when racial conflicts escalated and part of the white population started moving to the suburb also supported by infrastructure, followed in the 1970s and 1980s by product activity and company.

For Hong Kong instead, the “degrowth” begins when mainland developed and liberalised its economy and spaces become very expensive that makes complicated for start-ups and companies to establish in Hong Kong.


Decrease in these two cases is closely connected to the type of economy on which the city is based. Detroit based its all economy on auto industry. The lack of diversification inevitably leads to the failure of city when the sector on which it is based enters into crisis.

While Detroit tries to rise again thanks to the music and cultural sector, Hong Kong have time to modernize and reorganize its economic model before this become obsolete.


While in Detroit, there are more houses than people, it is the complete opposite in the case of Hong Kong with lots of people and lack of housing. This explains the huge difference in the real estate market.

Cost to rent

Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre 17,791.03 HK$
(2,290.85 $)
10,036.23 HK$
(1,292.31 $)
     -43.59 %
Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre 12,308.70 HK$
(1,584.92 $)
6,994.51 HK$
(900.64 $)
     -43.17 %
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre 38,716.67 HK$
(4,985.32 $)
17,905.24 HK$
(2,305.56 $)
     -53.75 %
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre 24,671.21 HK$
(3,176.77 $)
11,134.84 HK$
(1,433.77 $)
     -54.87 %


In each city there was/is a different type of segregation. In Detroit there was a racial segregation, while in Hong Kong there is an economic segregation. Although the city has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, there is severe income inequality among its residents. The only chance of most of its citizens to get a house is to get a public one.


Situation of Hong Kong and Detroit are both caused by wrong decisions, but the wrong decisions originated from different aspects of the society.

Hong Kong’s problem was the government’s power in the wrong hand, and shaken by capitalism of the real estate companies, which deeply Infiltrates into the government system and influence the decision to the real estate. They do not have enough land to build, to increase the value of each square, to raise the income of the stakeholders, they limit the building activities, use bank and investors to transform a function-based activity into a business activity. With this bubble becoming bigger and bigger, comes a disaster that affected everyone in Hong Kong.

Detroit was a hub of industries. From 1919, the post war situation restructured the culture and economy. These difference brings conflicts. After 1943 the communities were not safe anymore, there was violence and attacks, after the authorities attacked some black communities, people start to leave downtown, move to the suburban zones. With human resources leaving, the factories went along with them, industries were moving out the Detroit. A city dies only when it loses its origin. After a Japanese brand came onboard and started competing with American cars, the market shares shrunk, and the jobs available kept decreasing. Now the problem is how do we rebuild the city, attract people, and deal with a whole generation with no skills available to work in factory in the contemporary city?

Conflicts are a sign of malaise in the city. For Detroit came from the racial segregation, And Hong Kong came from the fight for democracy.


The city, like everything, has a cycle of life: Birth, Growth and Death. But it is not necessary to arrive to bankruptcy like Detroit, to change and review a city model. Detroit must be a warning for Hong Kong that they need a long-term and territory-wide strategy in order to not fail.

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