Sham Shu Po is one of the 18 districts in Hong Kong, and the poorest one. It is considered one of the areas with the highest population density, and also the highest poverty rate at 18.2% [1]. Despite its popularity with tourists, this district is concentrated in low-income families, new immigrants, street-sleepers, unemployed citizens, and the elderly.

Sham Shui Po, the poorest district in Hong Kong, where many low-income families/elderly live in partitioned flats and struggle with food prices. It was identified as one of Hong Kong's poorest districts by the Census & Statistics Department

Sham Shui Po was identified as one of Hong Kong’s poorest districts by the Census & Statistics Department

Today the district is well-connected by the Mass Transit Railway (MTR), along with many buses and minibuses that link to various parts of Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, and the New Territories. Upon exiting the MTR station, one is likely to be overwhelmed by the extensive layers of activities on the street level.

Sham Shui Po MTR Exit B2

Sham Shui Po MTR Exit B2

Claustrophobic apartments in Sham Shui Po, known as the partitioned home, are occupied by the poor families, immigrants and elderly. The state of their living quarters testify to Hong Kong’s “quantity over quality” policy, which is catered purely towards the economic benefits of the real estate owners. Looking up from the streets, these tiny apartments, dull facades, and the decayed neighborhoods as a whole, create the impression that this is not exactly the most pleasant environment to live in.

 

Rooms in partitioned homes look no bigger than a queen-sized bed

Rooms in partitioned homes look no bigger than a queen-sized bed

Public spaces in Sham Shui Po are tightly squeezed wherever possible—a few seats outside the MTR station exits; small pocket seating areas in the rare gaps between buildings; and bizarrely, a strip-park running between the traffic lanes of Nam Cheong Street, which is approximately 2.5 meters wide by 700 meters in length[2]. The green spaces are fragmented without any clear connection and fairly devoid of activity.

Examples of pocket spaces in Sham Shui Po

Examples of pocket spaces in Sham Shui Po

Strip-park running between the traffic lanes of Nam Cheong Street

Strip-park running between the traffic lanes of Nam Cheong Street

Although basic public facilities like seats are provided in good condition in Sham Shui Po, the spaces are too small for people to sit comfortably. Through conversations with the locals [3], most people find that the seating areas are too warm as there is a lack of proper shelter and thus, they would prefer going to the shopping malls over the parks. This shows that the public spaces that were planned from the “top-down” government or private developers are not designed or created to fulfill the locals’ needs[4].

Research increasingly suggests that public spaces are a basic need for the poor as living in a confined room without sufficient space and adequate sunlight increases the likelihood of health problems, restricts interaction between people, and other productive activities [5]. Public spaces therefore are the living rooms, gardens and corridors of urban areas. They serve to extend small living spaces and provide areas for social interaction and economic activities, which in turn improve the development and desirability of a community[6].

Kiu Kiang / Fuk Wing street Public Open Space

Beyond all the negative reports of this area, Sham Shui Po in itself is a very dynamic neighborhood with many bustling activities happening on various streets such as Fuk Wa Street and Apliu Street, which are considered the central market. Street vendors, stalls and vehicles dominate the shared street-space, creating an intensively crowded environment that is always on the move, around the clock.

Apliu Street: Where many informal markets can be found along the streets selling items such as second-hand electronic equipment

Apliu Street: Where many informal markets can be found along the streets selling items such as second-hand electronic equipment

Many shops along the streets have survived almost fifty years of history – traditional rice shops, stationery stores, fabric shops and Chinese bonesetters are among the surviving local culture. It is said that the value of Sham Shui Po cannot be underestimated as the area is very attractive, like Mong Kok, at least for new potential investments.

Sham Shui Po’s urban fabric is slowly changing over time[7], such as the building of new shopping malls like the ‘Dragon Center’ along Yen Chow Street. The Hong Kong’s Urban Renewal Authority is also gradually replacing those old blocks that are unfit for living. While this is a desire of many residents living in inadequate housing—to be compensated or given public housing—this may also erode the current dynamic social network of Sham Shui Po’s neighborhood over time.

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References:

[1] http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/economy/article/1866074/more-elderly-people-hong-kong-living-below-poverty-line

[2] https://lsecities.net/media/objects/articles/high-density-from-the-ground/en-gb/

[3] Personal interview with random local sitting in Nam Cheong Street Sitting-out Area by Doreen Neo, 05 June 2016

[4] https://www.hongkongfp.com/2015/08/20/hong-kongs-public-spaces-do-not-fulfill-local-needs/

[5] Shaftoe, H. (2008). Convivial urban spaces: creating effective public places. London ; Sterling, VA: Earthscan in association with the International Institute for Environment and Development.

[6] http://blogs.worldbank.org/endpovertyinsouthasia/public-spaces-not-nice-have-basic-need-cities

[7] http://followscience.com/content/515119/continuity-and-change-in-the-urban-transformation-of-old-districts/

Image Sources:

All images above are Author’s Own (Taken in June 2016)