City Of Darkness

scm_news_1.1.nws_backart1_1_0In “The Sustainable Densities Proposition”(1), Shlomo Angel states that city densities must remain within a sustainable range. Like a sort of Goldilocks Principle: Densities should neither be too high nor too low but “just right”.

At the height of the industrial revolution and up to the beginning of the 20th century, densities were too high. Today, it is generally accepted that average densities in the great majority of U.S. cities are too low to be sustainable. But how dense can a city become? Is it possible an urban “black hole”?

Kowloon Walled City Park opened 20 years ago, in December 1995. It sits on the very site of the former Kowloon Walled City, remembered as a haven of crime and debauchery:

A 2.7-hectare enclave of opium parlours, whorehouses and gambling dens run by triads, it was a place where police, health inspectors and even tax collectors feared to tread. (“Kowloon Walled City: Life in the City of Darkness”)

Kowloon Walled City became the densest urban neighbourhood in recent memory. Known as the City of Darkness in Cantonese, it was originally a Chinese military fort, and became an enclave after the New Territories were leased to Britain in 1898. Its population increased dramatically following the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War II.

In January 1987, when the Hong Kong government announced plans to demolish it, the city contained 33,000 residents. Population peaked at about 50,000 people in 1990, a whopping 1.85m people per square km, compared to Hong Kong’s mere 6,500. Demolition began in March 1993 and was completed in April 1994.

On 16 March, 2013, the South China Morning Post celebrated the 20th anniversary since demolition began, with an amazing info-graphic that details the facts and figures of what life was like inside this architectural oddity.

When I saw the info-graphic, I immediately thought of Ibañez’s 13 Rue del Percebeas it seems, not a particularly original thought…


(1) This paper is an edited excerpt of the author’s Planet of Cities (Cambridge MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2012).

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