Today, I went on a wander round Sai Wan Ho, a residential area of Hong Kong, after reading about some research conducted among the people who live there. The authors (Forrest et al., 2002) wanted to understand the nature of community and neighbourhood in such places.  Most sociological research into ‘neighbourhoods’ focuses on Europe and the US, and tends to write off the high-rise residential block as a social disaster.  But how might such housing work in entirely different contexts? Under what circumstances is the ultra-high residential block a good idea?  I don’t really know, but it’s always interesting to think about.

We sometimes see pictures like my own ones below circulating in the press and on the internet.  The commentary is always rather negative (“families squeezed into tiny cage-like apartments”; “flats no bigger than shoeboxes”; “the desperate shortage of accommodation”…)  But these criticisms, it seems to me, precisely replicate the problematic perspectives that led to them being built – with disastrous consequences – in places like Britain during the post-war period; they reduce the individuals that live in them to replicable passive components within a system.  In reality, the places I walked round today didn’t feel so awful at all.

Hong Kong, by the way, is only the world’s seventh densest urban area (for a full list, see Demographia, 2013). It differs from its competitors at the top of the league table, though, in that three-quarters of it is covered by dense forest.  There are no sprawling slums here: Hong Kong has more skyscrapers than New York City.

Anyway, here is my contribution to the photographic canon…

Sai Wan Ho Cultural Centre, Hong Kong

Hing Tung Estate, Sai Wan Ho, Hong Kong 2

Sai Wan Ho, Hong Kong 3

Hong Kong Residential Tower Blocks

Hong Kong Residential Tower Blocks

Hong Kong Residential Tower Blocks

Residential Tower Blocks in Hong Kong

Residential Tower Blocks, Hong Kong

Hong Kong high-rise residential towers

26 November 2013, Hong Kong


Demographia (2013). Demographia World Urban Areas: World Agglomerations (see p.133+). Available from:

Forrest, R., La Grange, A., & Ngai-Ming, Y. (2002). Neighbourhood in a high rise, high density city: some observations on contemporary Hong Kong. The Sociological Review. 50(2): 215-240