From Cyberpunk to Cramped Dweller: The Peculiar History of Hong Kong ‘Heterotopias’

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Daniel McCoy

Subject: Arts & Humanities, Anthropology & Ethnography Keywords: Hong Kong; Housing; Kowloon Walled City; Chungking Mansions; Cage Homes; Squatter Settlements; Great Britain; Demographics

75.6% of land comprising Hong Kong remains undeveloped according to the special administrative region’s planning department. In turn, Hong Kong’s constricted real estate, now estimated to be the world’s costliest, has created eye-popping living arrangements historically and contemporarily. Denizens’ colorful reputation and imagination for flouting city ordinances, zoning laws, and spatial management stand emblematic of tenacious self-sufficiency and a free-spirited brand of runaway capitalist initiative. Why is this conspicuous trademark of Hong Kong’s societal fabric very much alive in the 21st Century? Why does this matter in a rapidly urbanizing world witnessing the ascension of mega-urban centers alongside ever-widening socioeconomic chasms? This paper intends to illuminate the peculiar origins and longevity of the Kowloon Walled City, an urban monolith of notoriety and autonomy that blossomed in a semi-legal grey zone unencumbered under British protectorate rule for nearly a century. Parallels will connect the linear trajectory between Kowloon’s hardnosed living to today’s comparable Chungking Mansions and the hundreds of thousands of cage homes appearing in all corners of the city. This paper aims to answer why these residential paradoxes continue to function with efficiency and relevancy, posing solutions for indigent housing while exacerbating the stigma of social and economic ostracism.

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