As the affordable housing crisis in super densely populated Hong Kong continues to spiral out of control, a group has proposed an eyebrow-raising solution marrying two things that the space-starved city-state isn’t short on: retired shipping containers and vacant parcels of land sitting directly under highway overpasses.
As reported by SmartPlanet, the group, Under Bridge Action, is currently campaigning for shipping container abodes to be installed directly beneath the city’s network of nearly 2,000 overpasses — or flyovers — and pedestrian footbridges as a viable means of temporary housing for young artists and working professionals who otherwise can’t afford Hong Kong’s exorbitant rents.
Mathias Woo, an art critic and member of Under Bridge Action, believes that despite their somewhat unsavory proposed locale — more on that in a bit — the upcycled shipping container homes would be a step up from Hong Kong’s notorious “coffin” apartments and “better than those homes without windows, without air, where the bathroom and kitchen are put together.” He goes on to explain that "there could be some temporary homes set up for the first few years, and during this time, the government could look into how to put space under bridges to good long-term use.”
In addition to temporary housing, the shipping containers would also serve as youth hostels, art studios, and office space for small- to mid-sized businesses. As for under-bridge office spaces, one such project actually already exists.
Clarifies SmartPlanet's Vanessa Ko:
Hong Kong’s expensive housing is partially the result of not having enough land to build on, which is related to a hilly topography and limits controlled by the government. So any unused land in the city center might be thought of as a valuable asset going to waste.
One project based on this concept is now completed: a district affairs office built under the overpass in Kwun Tong, which wraps dramatically around a large pylon supporting the bridge. Campaigners see this structure as a starting point that would demonstrate to the public the feasibility of using this empty space. Currently, residential units are not permitted to be built under overpasses. The group says there are more than 1,900 such bridges, including pedestrian walkways, throughout the city. They contend that under the Kwun Tong overpass alone, 300 to 500 temporary container homes could be built in just several months, compared with the years it takes the government to build a block of public housing.
Naturally, many Hong King residents think that the members of Under Bridge Action, which, in addition to Woo, includes politician Chan Yuen-han as one its more vocal members, are collectively wearing their finest pairs of bad idea jeans. The reasons folks are disapproving of a plot to plop container homes under Hong Kong's network of highway overpasses are obvious: Noise, pollution, ongoing maintenance work, lack of sunlight, and a host of logistical and quality of life issues. Just the thought of living in a corrugated metal box under a congested roadway alone is enough to induce panic (but it's a good thing shipping containers are structurally sound, I guess?)
Speaking to the South China Morning Post student Gloria Lin asks: "To be honest, who wants to live under galvanised-iron roofs?"
A concerned reader of the South China Morning Post agrees in a letter to the editor:
It cannot be denied that the housing problem in Hong Kong has become severe and it seems impossible for young people to live in an apartment, given high prices and rents. Nonetheless, living in shipping containers beneath flyovers would be a humiliating experience and would cause health problems. Such a proposal should not be encouraged. Many people in Hong Kong already have to endure terrible conditions in cage homes and subdivided units. In these containers, people will have to put up with fumes from vehicles and the noise of them travelling overhead on the flyover. Also, the residents will have to use portable toilets and this is not hygienic.
A naysaying columnist for Independent Media also sounds off on the proposal: “Young people and artists need space, and they need dignified space. Senior officials should put themselves in their shoes, experience life under a bridge, and then make suggestions.”
The website Beijing Cream points out that the shipping container villages would also displace the thousands of homeless people who currently live beneath the overpasses: “This is a city that’s been known to spray down the areas where vagrants sleep several times per night, and to send officials to confiscate their personal belongings. Now the homeless are being forced to compete for territory with tenants of these proposed crate boutiques?” Despite a rather outraged response from community members, Under Bridge Action plans to conduct a comprehensive study before submitting an official proposal to the government.
Explains Woo to SmartPlanet: “Architects and designers could come up with lots of livable and innovative design ideas. There are many such sites in Hong Kong that we should explore rather sitting there and making judgments without any knowledge about design in a Hong Kong context.”
I do have to wonder if Woo and others have also considered looking up to the unused rooftops of commercial buildings and warehouses — and perhaps shopping malls — and not just strictly looking under Hong Kong's dirty and noisy bridges.