Land Use Policy

Volume 76, July 2018, Pages 157-165
Land Use Policy

Quality of life in a “high-rise lawless slum”: A study of the “Kowloon Walled City”

Under a Creative Commons license
open access


First attempt to assess quality of life of the “Kowloon Walled City” in Hong Kong.

Archival data and oral testimonies support arguments.

Refute common misconceptions about the “Kowloon Walled City” as an anarchy.

The quality of life within the “Kowloon Walled City” fulfilled important criteria for life satisfaction.


Informed by the ‘quality of life’ model with specific reference to Chinese culture, this article uses reliable and publicly available information seldom used in historical or heritage study to identify the designs of flats and builders of the “Kowloon Walled City” (hereafter the City) and reliable oral testimonies to refute some myths about the quality of life within it. This settlement has been notoriously misrepresented by some as a city of darkness that was razed from the face of the Earth before 1997 to fulfill a pre-war dream of the colonial government. This article confirms the view that this extremely short-lived concrete jungle, mystified as a horrifying, disorderly-built, and unplanned territory, was a product of un-organised small builders that had been hitherto unreported. The layout and designs of the housing units were different from that prescribed by the Buildings Ordinance, but were, in fact, developed within a consciously planned boundary that was a result of international politics. Although the City’s overall built environment was poor due to a lack of natural light penetration, the designs of its individual flats were comparable, if not better than, typical units in contemporary public rental housing blocks, many of which had to be demolished less than 20 years after their construction due to structural defects. This article uses the ‘quality of life’ model, which has hitherto been limited to medical and social, rather than historical or anthropological, studies, to evaluate how design and housing satisfaction affected City residents’ quality of life.


Kowloon Walled City
Quality of life
Housing unit
Life satisfaction
View Abstract