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The ecology of a city and its people: the case of Hong Kong

S Boyden, S Millar, K Newcombe, B O'Neill

Published 1981

The book

The Hong Kong Human Ecology program was a first attempt to describe the ecology of a city and its human population in a holistic and integrated way. This book is the outcome. It is concerned with the 'system as a whole' - changing patterns of flow and use of energy, of nutrients and of water, and changes in housing and transport. It is also concerned with individual people - their actual conditions of life and their mental and physical health. It describes the mechanisms by which people adapt to potentially stressful conditions - such as the extraordinarily high population densities - as well as the limits to human adaptability. The book discusses important principles of human ecology relating to the interrelationship between society, environment and human well-being.

The authors discuss the human ecological predicament as a whole, and they consider that the greatest hope for a long-term ecologically stable future for humankind lies in the concept of the multifocal society. Basically, this can be described as a system in which small societal units, within cities and in rural areas are, as far as possible, self-sufficient in both material requirements for health and survival, such as food, water, shelter, clothing and amenities, and in intangible or psycho-social networks, recreational opportunities, satisfactory work opportunities, variety in daily experience, and responsibility for local affairs.

From the Introduction

The spectacle of Hong Kong reminds us how far humankind has travelled, in only a few hundred generations, from the way of life and the environment which, through evolution, shaped the human species; the way of life, that is, of the hunter-gatherer, the way of life of humans for 99 per cent of their existence on earth. What are the implications, we ask, of all the rapid and accelerating changes that have been and are taking place in the human condition - the implications for civilisation and for the biosphere? Where are we? Where have we come from? How did we get here? Where do we seem to be going? Where do we want to go? What is 'progress'? Does the modern world really satisfy human needs? And what, anyway, are the needs of the human species? These are philosophical questions, but they also have great practical relevance in the modern world. They are of course, not new; but they are being asked today more frequently than ever before and with an increasing sense of urgency. It is our view that comprehensive ecological studies of human settlements can, by improving understanding of the human situation, contribute towards our attempts to find answers to these questiions. This book is the product of one such ecological study.

437 pages, 34 tables, 50 figures, glossary, bibliography, index. ISBN 0 7081 1095 9

The lead author

Stephen Boyden received his PhD in immunology from the University of Cambridge in 1951 and carried out research in immunology in the USA, Europe and Australia. After 1965 he played a leading role in developing the new field of human ecology and biohistory at the Australian National University. He has published a number of books, and since his retirement, at the end of 1990, he has been an active member of the Nature and Society Forum.

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