I have seen a lot of people consider Hong Kong to be the greatest cities of the world, but most are looking only as tourist point of view and they do not know the living conditions. Even some singaporeans think that living in Hong Kong is better, while some (more) hongkongers think that living in Singapore is better.
Hong Kong is richer than Singapore? see the truth!
Personally I appreciate Hong Kong for their efforts to build a city on improper, non-flat terrain, and also for several of the biggest engineering projects in the world history, but… I do not want to live in Hong Kong! Singapore is overall better at living conditions.
Hong Kong have 1,104 sq km a population of 7 millions people as 2010, this means a population density of 6400 people per sq km (similar with Singapore), but because of mountains, only 1/5 of land is developed, so the city itself is much more dense.
Macau have 30 sq km (half of it reclaimed from sea) and a population of 540,000 people, this means a population density of 18000 people per sq km.
Hong Kong is the city of contrasts and gigantic proportions, it also holds numerous world records. Examples: Hong Kong International Airport built on a 12 sq km artificial island, 4 enormous suspension and cable-stayed bridges, 5 underwater tunnels, biggest apartment buildings with smallest apartments, most expensive real estate. The tunnel of Lei Yue Mun road under Sceneway Garden may be the largest tunnel of the world (~35 meters wide, no pillars). Hong Kong hold multiple times the record of most expensive apartment in the world, example from June 2008 and from October 2009.
Hong Kong is the most vertical city in the world according Emporis, beating cities like New York, Singapore, or Sao Paulo in the number of high-rises (with over 12 storeys) or skyscrapers (over 150 meters in height), also beats all records of proportion of population living above any given storey number, but it has been recently defeated by Dubai in terms of buildings over 300 meters.
The combination between scarce land, lower income people, created incredible tall apartment skyscrapers with horrible small apartments, sizes like 35-45 sqm for 3-room and 50-60 sqm for 4-room are very common even in blocks built today. 3-room are dominant, but today is possible to have more 4-room under construction. Minimum ceiling height is 2.5 meters. Over 90% of Hong Kong families today live in homes smaller than 700 square feet / 65 sqm (source: HK Journal. Typical, 50 sqm apartments are sold with prices from 2 million HKD (250.000 USD) in New Territories to over 6 million HKD in Hong Kong Island, even more in Mid-Levels.
Hong Kong public transport is one of the best in the world. Mass Transit Railway opened in 1979 and today reached 175 km of lines, plus 36 km of Light Rail. There is one car per 13 people. Hong Kong won best airport award in 2011.
Hong Kong landscape is more beautiful than Singapore one. Coastal areas are full with skyscrapers with impressive views, mountains are again full with skyscrapers with even more breathtaking views, but all have tiny but expensive apartments. Same for Macau too. Hong Kong may beat San Francisco at the number of very steep streets.
Victoria and Kowloon areas are full with dense high-rise horrible ugly tenement buildings with continuous facades (Tong Lau), built according existing street network, some reaching over 20 storeys, transforming the streets into urban canyons, sunlight rarely reach the street level, you hardly find a piece of grass between buildings. These dirty buildings are not so old that they are looking, mostly are built from 1950s to 1970s, but they look worse than the public housing from similar period, due of lack of management, lack of aesthetic maintenance, balconies randomly closed, air conditioners placed randomly, rooftop additions, plus a lot of pipes, wires, cages, clothing racks, and other ugly objects hanged on external walls.
Due of tiny apartments and desperation to have more space, many owners closed or walled balconies, then added caged balconies outside them, in HongKong most caged balconies were removed in 1990s due of risk of falling, but in Macau they are still present.
By leaving central area, you will enter in a very different world., Hong Kong New Towns are less dense, but all have same kind of tall, massive and low-cost apartment towers. Unlike Singapore, HongKong still have some rural areas, low-density village houses in New Territories, but they looks like slums. Hong Kong have lots of nature, scenic roads, forest walks, hiking trails, etc.
Urban Planning is worsen than Singapore in my opinion, too much space is wasted with highways with their complicated intersections. Also in New Territories there is too large open spaces, stand-alone or rows of apartment towers, rather than linear buildings how is in Singapore.
Public housing in Hong Kong began in 1954, temporary and low-cost housing. In 1973 government announced programme to provide permanent housing, since 1990s slightly over half of population lives in public rental or own government housing, as 2012 the percentage dropped to 46%.
My proposal: better planning for roads, develop more flat land of New Territories, also demolish some of the hundreds of ugly villages and build high-rises.
Older buildings (1950s-1970s)
Newer buildings (2000s)
More photos with new buildings on Hong Kong floor plans page.
Hong Kong rural villages
Hong Kong villages exists mostly in New Territories as well in remote parts of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Most of the “village houses” are composed by apartments too, probably 2-4 per floor. The government limit the height of villages to 3 floors, but due of space desperation, numerous buildings have the roof terrace covered and converted in 4th floor, some even a 5th floor. The village streets can be narrow as 1.5 meters (5-foot walkway) and street width may equal with distance between houses.
The single-family homes are called Villas and are not related with these villages.
Kowloon Walled City
A political loophole between China and Hong Kong created a 2.6 hectare chinese territory in middle in Kowloon where Hong Kong police had no rights to enter and Chinese police refused to take care. Originally a walled fort, it developed in a city for refugees, criminals, illegal businesses, drug dealers, unlicensed doctors and dentists, who could operate there without threat of prosecution. Hong Kong government did provide some services, such as water supply and mail delivery.
The city underwent massive construction in the 1960s and 1970. More and more people were moving in it so they had need to maximize the space, a lot of modifications were made, virtually without architects or engineers, the single rule was to limit building height to 14 storeys due of nearby Kai Tak Airport. New slums were built on top of existing slums, balconies were converted in room and caged balconies were installed. The streets were 1-2 meters width and were illuminated by fluorescent lights all day long, as the sunlight never reached the ground. A network of alleys and staircases connected the buildings also on upper levels.
Official estimations says that in Kowloon Walled City were living 33.000 people in 1987. Unnofficial estimations says that due of overcrowding 50.000 people lived in it in its final days, resulting a population density of 1.924.000 people per square kilometer, and a ratio of 4 sq m per person. For comparison, Mong Kok District, densest area of normal Hong Kong, had in the past only 130.000 people per square kilometer.
Hong Kong and China agreed in 1987 to clear the complex and demolition occurred in 1993-1994, today the land was developed in a park.
More info: http://www.archidose.org/KWC/
A lot of photos: http://worldphotocollections.blogspot.com/2010/06/kowloon-walled-city-hong-kong-china.html
Another lot of photos: http://www.klnwcity.org/intro/large/klnwcity/
Living in Hong Kong
New section added October 2012
Do you though that Hong Kong means luxury and high standards of living?
Hong Kong have biggest income inequality of developed countries: video.
CNN report of cage homes, 90 people living in a 625 sq ft apartment: video. Is it a single case or are more buildings like this?
Families living in 40 square feet: photos.
A family of 4 living in 150 square feet, in a subdivided apartment: video.
Well-known video of Hong Kong architect converting a 30 sqm 3-room apartment into a studio apartment with 24 different room configuration possible.
Example of 16.4 square feet “apartment”: video (thanks EL for giving me the link). I do not understand if it is a promotional video or a news/research report, do you?
Quite obvious that the government PRH production is not enough, the waiting list for public housing is several years.
Hong Kong floor plans
For public housing of Hong Kong, the Housing Authority website added floorplans in 2010 for the HOS/PSPS/TPS estates. For private housing, you should search on the developer’s website or on GoHome.com.hk and Centadata.com, few developments have published floorplans.
I compiled a list of floor plans by block type in Hong Kong floor plans page.
Less known, Macau also have public housing: Instituto de Habitacao, but much estates (6300 apartments) compared with Hong Kong (over 1.1 million apartments) and less percentage of residents living in public housing. I did not found much info about Macao public housing, or floor plans, but by measuring blocks in Google Earth, it’s obvious that the flat sizes are larger, probably with 25-50%.
One of the most beautiful things of Hong Kong
Is the symphony of lights! Running every day at 8 PM, it takes 14 minutes. It is completed by fireworks in certain occasions (new year, christmas, etc).