Wednesday October 18, 2017

Dark tower of dreams: Inside the Walled City of Kowloon

Walled City, Tung Tau Tsuen Rd, 1987.

Walled City, Tung Tau Tsuen Rd, 1987. (© Greg Girard)

Listen to Full Episode 53:58

The infamous "Walled City of Kowloon" was once the most populous spot on the planet. With 1.2 million people per square kilometre, it was a gigantic squatter's village. Nobody planned it, but somehow it worked, until it was demolished, just before the British handed Hong Kong back to China. Paul Kennedy speaks with photographer Greg Girard, and urban designer Suenn Ho, about what the Walled City meant to them, and him.


"If our environment is built with higher density, maybe it will change the way we relate to each other. In a tighter environment, we become more sensitive to our neighbour's needs. As community members we have higher tolerance for accepting differences. I'm hoping we can use the Kowloon Walled City to find a way to live better as a global community." – Suenn Ho

Kowloon-City of Darkness Book

'City of Darkness Revisited' by Greg Girard and Ian Lambot. Published by Watermark Publications, 2014.

In the early 1990s, Paul Kennedy lived in Hong Kong. Every morning, he took an hour-long ferry ride from Mui Wo Village, on Lantau Island, to HK Central, where he then jumped onto a subway train to drop his daughter at Seeker Chan Elementary School, near Boundary Street in Kowloon. He spent the rest of the day wandering through the streets of one of the most fascinating cities in the world. The notorious Walled City of Kowloon was his most mind-blowing discovery.

His guide was an American Fulbright Scholar named Suenn Ho, who is now an urban designer in Portland, Oregon. Suenn grew up in Hong Kong. A young Canadian photographer named Greg Girard was also living in Hong Kong then. He was working for TIME, Newsweek, Maclean's, and Fortune Magazine, all over Asia. And in his spare time, he was taking pictures, inside the Walled City, collecting images for what would eventually become an amazing book called City of Darkness. 

Residents of the Walled City were forcefully evicted in the early 1990s. And in 1993 demolition began. It's now an urban park called Kowloon Walled City Park. 

Guests in this episode:

Photographs of Kowloon Walled City by Greg Girard 

Ideas-Kowloon Walled City

Kowloon Walled City, 1987. (© Greg Girard)

Ideas-Kowloon Walled City-BBQ Meat Factory, 1990

BBQ Meat Factory, 1990. (© Greg Girard)

Ideas-Kowloon Walled City-Noodle Factory

Noodle Factory and Family Residence, 1989 (© Greg Girard)

Ideas-Kowloon Walled City-Young boy in living area in back of family shop

Young boy in living area in back of family shop, 1990. (© Greg Girard)

Ideas-Kowloon Walled City-Children playing on Walled City rooftop

Children playing on Walled City rooftop, 1989. (© Greg Girard)

IDEAS-Kowloon Walled City-Cathay Pacific jet passing Walled City rooftops

Cathay Pacific jet passing Walled City rooftops, 1989. (© Greg Girard)


**This episode was produced by Paul Kennedy and Mitchell Thompson.