Look up Wikipedia and you will find how we used to be a British colony for more than 150 years, and that we are entitled to "a high degree of autonomy for 50 years" as our sovereignty was returned to China in 1997.
A Place of “Borrowed” Time
Decolonisation has left us in a peculiar state. Are we just an apolitical hub for businessmen and opportunists? Are we too Chinese for foreigners, or too westernised for the Chinese? What is Hong Kong during these 50 years of "borrowed" time, and what will become of us after 2046? No wonder the late Hong Kong poet and literary critic Leung Ping Kwan was so vexed by the question: why is it so hard to tell our own stories?
For all the things people come to Hong Kong for – be it business, opportunity or thrill – it is first and foremost a place to live, with real, ordinary people who build their lives around patterns, and care enough to make our city better.
As Team A City Made By People Hong Kong, we hope to make this hybrid place (perhaps jarringly so) a little more legible for other city enthusiasts. We will show you what Hong Kong as a society is like, how we live day by day collectively. People in Hong Kong like to talk about emigration, but we believe Hong Kong is liveable by the tenacity with which we form attachments with this place of "borrowed" time. Hong Kong can be a city of settlers.
Team A City Made By People Hong Kong was conceived at a pop-up bookstore on urbanism, held at exhibition and community space Form Society in an up-and-coming makers’ district in Hong Kong. Print editions of A City Made By People were on display for subscription.
Borrowed Spaces in the City
We are a people of street smarts, some say. Colonial history and an unheeding government teach us locals to make do for our own sake in spite of authorities. The expediency and convenience characteristic in our way of life is reflected in the works of Hong Kong-based photographer Michael Wolf. He captured how Hong Kong people improvise pop-up solutions for everyday problems. Bits and pieces of public space – back alleys, stairs, sidewalks and railings – are appropriated and personalised to serve one's own purposes.
"Bastard Chairs" on the roadside assembled from assorted materials (Image credits - Michael Wolf)
Want to sit down on a flight of stairs? Just cut off some of the legs (Image credits - Michael Wolf)
Gloves and mops not in use are thrown around any found object (Image credits - Michael Wolf)
Hong Kong on Ground Level
When developers fight to own the city with panoramas, let’s look humbly around us. The best way to experience this vertical city is on the ground level. Streets in Hong Kong are abuzz with shops, restaurants and markets that often extend their reach of offerings to the full walkable width, but homes are not always upstairs. Wo Lok Estate in Kwun Tong features a human-centric design where houses are right on the street level, so you may hear mothers calling out to their kids in the playground straight from the living room.
People use different everyday materials (flower pots, plants, laundry, bedsheets, plastic bags and dry food wrapped in nets) to cover up their balconies and protect their privacy, unintentionally revealing the web of common objects that tie the neighbourhood together.
Over the next few months, we are going to walk you through Hong Kong with people from all walks of life: home-grown locals, city enthusiasts from overseas, thinkers, makers and many more. Among other initiatives, we will feature a collaborative social lab with citizen designers and engineers on walkability and street policy for happier neighbourhoods.
If we take the time to know Hong Kong on foot, perhaps in everything we see, the stamina for growth prevails.
Life breaks free. Life expands to new territories. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way. – Jurassic Park (Image credits - Michael Wolf)
And here’s our team of correspondents in Hong Kong: Lesley Cheung, Vicki Wong, Hermion Au and Vienna Lee. Lesley now writes and translates for creatives, Vicki is an illustrator, Hermion is an urbanist and urban designer, and Vienna is a political scientist. We are interested in design with an anthropological approach, and documenting personal stories as well as objects that form a critical view to social life.
Let's give a big cyber welcome to Hong Kong for joining our network of cities! Take a look at Issue 1 & 2 of our print journal for more insights on cities around the world! #acitymadebypeople