For residents of Kowloon Walled City, life was anarchy.
As many as 50,000 residents, many of which were squaters, were crammed into the 6-acre settlement that once served as a Chinese military outpost. And while the British claimed jurisdiction of the town in Hong Kong after a handover in 1898, the city was largely left alone.
Without health regulations or law enforcement, the community, which comprised of 350 densely packed high-rise buildings, served as a refuge for drug dealers, criminals and gangs. In time, the virtual absence of government oversight lead to a society ruled by powerful mafiosos known as Triads.
By the 1950’s, the city became an epicenter for triad-controlled brothels, casinos, and opium dens. Even the neighborhood doctors and dentists were shady, with many unlicensed practictioners choosing to set up shop locally so that they could operate without fear of prosecution. If the police ever did venture inside, it was only in large heavily armed groups.
Still, reports and testimonials indicate that generally the locals lived peacefully. Photos published in the book “City of Darkness,” which chronicled life within the city, showed children playing on rooftops not too far away from adults taking in the fresh air high above the constant buzz of illegal activity. In fact, the city’s rooftops actually served as an important gathering place, enabling nieghbors to bond and help one another endure the miserable conditions.
That’s because even from such a remote viewpoint, the squaler was unavoidable. Dwellings were built entirely without the help of architects and many apartments were so small (about 250 squre feet) that garbage, TVs, water tanks were stored on rooftops. The lack of building codes and regulations also meant homes had poor foundations and few or no utilities. Outside, the network of staircases and passageways on the upper levels was so extensive that pedestrians can cross the entire city without ever touching solid ground.
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Conditions improved in the 60s and 70’s when a police crackdown led to over 2,500 arrests and the confiscation of over 4,000 pounds of drugs. Charities, religious societies, and other welfare groups were gradually introduced and the Hong Kong government began to provide water supply and mail services.
Despite these efforts, Hong Kong officials decided in 1987 to demonish the city, athough many residents resisted the forced evictions.
However, by April 1994, Kowloon Walled City was no more.
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