SCMP Wednesday, May 17, 2000

Survey reveals city of strangers


Fewer than one in 10 people have a good relationship with their next-door neighbours while almost one-third do not even know their names, a survey has found.

The poll by religious group New Life 2000 interviewed 1,049 people aged between 19 and 49 last month. Roxanne Leung Wai-hing, who led the survey, urged officials to promote a neighbourly atmosphere by reinforcing the concept of being helpful.

In the survey, 71 per cent described their relationship with neighbours as "average" with only seven per cent saying it was good. Fifty-three per cent said if they heard their neighbours shouting for help, they would not respond, and 76 per cent said they would not ask their neighbours for help if they were in trouble.

Mok Hing-luen, a senior lecturer at City University's division of social studies, said the findings showed people did not know how to help each other as they did in the past.

He blamed sour neighbourly relationships on building design and a heightened awareness of privacy. "When I was small, I lived in a public housing building where every household would keep their doors open and everyone knew everyone else.

"We were very close and helped each other whenever there was the need. We even shared sweet soup and congee," said Mr Mok.

But now most units were padlocked and you seldom saw your neighbours, he said.

"People now don't want to show themselves to others, fearing their privacy would be intruded upon."

Mr Mok said the concept of being a good neighbour was not new to Hong Kong as former governor Murray Maclehose had introduce it in 1976: "He promoted 'community building' with everyone helping each other by looking after their neighbours.

"In a society which always talks about economics and hi-tech development, there is a vital need for people to have more human elements," he said.