Hong Kong has always promoted itself to the world as a glittering, law abiding, “all business” and civilized city. Westernized. A bit British. And that must be good right?
The city might have been like that once but it didn’t seem this way to me when I visited in 2017. I found Hong Kong to be a bit claustrophobic and not as “exotic” as its public image suggests. Too many tall buildings and much of the sun blocked out as a result. Not many green spaces.
What I felt there in 2017 is now widely reported these days. It’s now clear that the city has been in decay for decades. Too many people, rising inequality. Poor spending on infrastructure and social development, declining air quality and a lack of green spaces.
And one of the worst aspects of life for many people in Hong Kong is housing.
Housing in Hong Kong is unaffordable and often inhumane. It surely would have been one of drivers of the frustrations released by the peaceful demonstrations of large numbers of Hong Kongers in recent years.
One of the things that Hong Kong is short of is land. As a result, residential accomodation has been built upwards and in very high density. You can see rather eye-catching (and not necessarily pleasant) photographic essays on many of these rather unfortunate Hong Kong “nano apartment” towers on the net.
Here is a bird’s eye view of an interior. What would this size apartment be? 10 sqm at most? That is definitely nano and it includes everything.
One of the smallest living spaces in Hong Kong, even smaller than the nanos are called “coffin” apartments – for obvious reasons. Here is one below – complete with toilet, laundry and cooking areas. It’s quite hard to imagine anyone living like this. Let alone in one of the richest regions of the world. Maybe there is something wrong with how we measure and/or apportion wealth? Probably the occupants of this home are the workers who actually build the glass towers of the rich city siders.
But wait. There is even worse.
Just when you thought the living conditions couldn’t get any worse in Hong Kong, there are “cage homes.” And yes, they are what they sound like. Often the living arrangements of the poor or elderley, cage homes are bed sized cages, stacked upon one another, in large shared dormitary style rooms.
What does this say about the society that tolerates this? Especially as Hong Kong is such a high finance hub for asia, home to all the elite financial organizations of the world. This abundance of wealth, coupled with its abundance of poverty makes Hong Kong the most unequal place on earth. This didn’t happen overnight. Or even since the 1997 returning of the region to China.
The outcomes and decline of modern Hong Kong must surely have been created by its historical and societal goals and norms, which, as we know, were under the guideance of London for 155 of its 179 year life time.
Few (any?) people in mainland China’s other top tier cities live like this now. Take a look at Hong Kong’s neighbouring mainland city of Shenzhen.
Shenzhen and Hong Kong are very near to each other geographically. But to me, they are very far apart.
Which city looks to you as being a part of the future? Which city looks to be a remnant of the past?
I want to visit Shenzhen one day amongst many other places of interest in China. For all of the faults of the Chinese government it seems to me to that they are transforming the lives of ordinary people in a way that has not been possible under the alternative systems in the world, such as that under which Hong Kong has spent most of its life.
I guess it is up to a population of a nation and its governors to strike a balance which satisfies everyone. Balance between progress and red tape. Between freedom and inequality.
It will be fascinating to watch China’s continuing journey. And hopefully, they will be left alone to travel along it. Free from foreign meddling.