All throughout the world are structures that inspire wonder and awe. These monuments to the bizarre remind us how strange life is, and as mysteriously as they are erected, too often are they destroyed. Few can top the claustrophobia-inducing halls and cramped quarters of Kowloon. Dark, dank, and dangerous, this is a story of struggle born in the heart of Hong Kong. This is the Walled City of Kowloon.

Starting life as a squatter settlement for families without a place to go, the seeds of a city were planted where none should be able to grow. From tents and shacks, 14-story tall tenement buildings sprouted from the ground. Over 30,000 families soon filled the 8,000 apartments in a space smaller than Manhattan with almost five times the population density. At its peak, Kowloon was the most densely populated area in the world.

Komichel JohnsonExisting in a political gray area at the center of Hong Kong, Kowloon was claimed by no one, and thus, free to govern itself. Abandoned by the British and ignored by Hong Kong officials, the mystery city was left to its own devices. Woefully undermanaged, the gap government and law are meant to fill was quickly filled by the gangs.

Ruled by the Triad, the most lethal gang in Asia, this lawless city became the Wild West of the east. Drug trafficking among other dubious trades circulated, free from persecution or reprimand. The city had grown so massive, that entire levels were blanketed in darkness. With one water source for the entire city, 30,000 people shared one spigot. Hoses and pipes lining every hall, ceiling, and floor.

Though many who lived in Kowloon fell victim to vice, a vast majority of the families viewed their predicament as a close community. Whole generations of families lived in single-room apartments, and for twenty years this city existed as a haven for some but tomb for others. Though it was demolished in the ‘90s and a garden now stands as a memorial to the mini-metropolis, few will ever forget Kowloon.