99% Invisible—”a tiny radio show about design” and architecture—explores the legendary Kowloon Walled City. The Walled City was torn down in 1993, but has been featured in Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Supremacy, William Gibson’s Bridge trilogy and the new Call of Duty: Black Ops video game, and inspired the Narrows setting in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.
By its peak in the 1990s, the 6.5 acre Kowloon Walled City was home to at least 33,000 people (with estimates of up to 50,000). That’s a population density of at least 3.2 million per square mile. For New York City to get that dense, every man, woman, and child living in Texas would have to move to Manhattan.
[…] Kowloon Walled City began as a military fort in Kowloon, a region in mainland China. In 1898, China signed a land lease with Great Britain, giving the British control of Hong Kong, Kowloon, and other nearby territories. But the lease stipulated that the fort in Kowloon would remain under Chinese jurisdiction.
Over time, the fort became abandoned, leaving the area subject to neither Chinese nor British authority. This legal gray zone was attractive to displaced and marginalized people. Thousands of people moved there after the war with Japan broke out in 1937. Even more people moved there after the Communist Revolution. It attracted gangsters, drug addicts, sex workers, and refugees. And it also drew a lot of normal people from all over China who saw opportunity there.
Click through to 99percentinvisible.org for photos and video of the Walled City. Host Roman Mars also tweeted a link to a Reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’ session with user Crypt0n1te, who claims to have lived there as a child.