kai tak

My neighbor, the walled city of Kowloon

When I was growing up in Hong Kong I spent a year at (the now closed) Boundary Junior School. It was a unique experience for a 10 year old, going from a suburban Californian elementary school to an international school populated with every nationality and culture under the sun. But that wasn't what made BJS so unique - it was the location that made it truly memorable. Crammed into the concrete jungle of Kowloon, BJS was right under the flight path of the legendary Kai Tak airport. Every 90 seconds a plane would roar over our heads as we sat in assembly or played downball in the playground. And we're not talking about several thousand feet here, we're talking LOW. As each plane came over, the teacher would pause, wait for the plane to pass, and carry on with the lesson. It became as second nature as breathing or blinking.

Kai Tak Approach

While looking for a photo of the Kai Tak approach I stumbled across an infographic on one of Boundary Junior School's more infamous neighbors - the Walled City of Kowloon.

The walled city, located not far from the Kai Tak airport, was remarkable high-rise squatter camp that by the 1980s had 50,000 residents. A historical accident of colonial Hong Kong, it existed in a lawless vacuum until it became an embarrassment for Britain.

Each resident had about 40 ft.² of space, and because it fell outside of the jurisdiction of any Hong Kong authority or municipal service, including rubbish collection, garbage was hauled to the roof and just left.

But within its dark and squalid walls a micro-economy emerged. Metal fabrication shops, grocery stores, and even kindergartens and schools all had a place within the "City of Darkness".

The infographic below tells a  quite extraordinary tale of an architectural and urban anomaly. Unauthorised, unplanned, and unregulated but yet, like the rest of Hong Kong, efficient, thriving and successful in its own unique way.

Click on the image below for the full version.

City of Anarchy via the South China Morning Post.