anarchy in the walled city

All this intensity of random human effort and activity, vice and sloth and industry, exempted from all the controls we take for granted, resulted in an environment as richly varied and as sensual as anything in the heart of the tropical rainforest. The only drawback is that it was obviously toxic. City of Darkness

My favorite example of a successful anarchist state is that of the Kowloon Walled City. This is not a white European anarchist experiment, like Pennsylvania or Moresnet, but it is an experiment by the dregs of society within the state of Hong Kong. What is very telling is this anarchist state did not collapse on its own (like so many utopian experiments). The people were forcefully evicted and the government tore down the structure (1993).

The Kowloon Walled City began as a fluke of history. The Chinese retained control of this area when Hong Kong was leased to the British, although the British later claimed jurisdiction. With the Chinese still claiming title, the residents threatened to start international incidences if the British tried to exert control. Without a real government, the Kowloon Walled City grew into “six-and-a-half acres of solid building, home to 33,000 people”. It was home to drug dealers, opium dens, prostitutes and a thriving black market industry, including unregulated cigarettes, medicine, and dentistry (oh mi!).

There were no thoroughfares in the City – and no vehicles except the odd bicycle – only hundreds of alleys, each different. From the innocuous, neutral outside you plunged in. The space was often no more than four feet wide. Immediately, it dipped and twisted, the safe world outside vanished, and the Walled City swallowed you up.

The city itself was a labyrinth of hallways and small rooms. It grew steadily upwards. There was no central planner directing upwards construction. The power grid was haphazardly erected. On ground level, no light could be seen. The main source of physical threat to the residents was the triads, who had more interest in protecting their opium trade than regulating the lives of citizens.

Medical and dental care were no problem at all: many of the residents were doctors and dentists with Chinese qualifications and years of experience but lacking the expensive pieces of paper required to practice in the colony. They set up their neat little clinics in the City, oases of cleanliness and order, and charged their patients a fraction of what they would pay outside.

With no building inspectors or code enforcers, the room rents were cheap. With no government regulators, any person could work for any business or create any business they liked. Without any colonial police, no person was asked for citizen papers or harassed in any like manner. Interviews with residents show normal people, living normal lives.

The government of Hong Kong refused to allow the Walled City to tap into their public water system. The Walled City assembled 77 wells, pumped it to the roofs and then a series of “ad hoc” pipes funneled the water throughout the complex. In spite of the government, the city was able to provide water to 33,000-50,000 people living in a 6 acre area.

While the Walled City was not without flaws, it sustained tens of thousands of people with minimal to no government involvement.

There are two main books of the Kowloon Walled City. Jackie Pullinger published Crack in the Wall in 1993, relating 25 years worth of her experiences as a missionary inside the Walled City. The second book is called City of Darkness, written by a journalist and is written in the fashion of character profiles of various people living within the city. Both reveal the genius decentralized human action.

On the design website 99percentinvisible.org, they host several photos of the walled city, and also link to a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie featuring the city.

What fascinates about the Walled City is that, for all its horrible shortcomings, its builders and residents succeeded in creation what modern architects, with all their resources of money and expertise, have fail to: the city as ‘organic megastructure’, not set rigidly for a lifetime but continually responsive to the changing requirements of its users, fulfilling every need from water supply to religion, yet providing warmth and intimacy of a single household.

Kowloon Walled City

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
This entry was posted in Economics, Goverment, History, Human Nature, Standard of Living, Trade. Bookmark the permalink.

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