Simon Jenkins, writing about the fire at Grenfell Tower, apparently thinks Hong Kong is “squalid”:
There is no need to build high at all. The developers’ cry, that cities must build high to “survive”, is self-serving rubbish, the more absurd when their towers are left half-empty. The principal reserve of residential space in British cities is derelict land and the under-occupation of existing houses. Unless we wish to build at the squalid densities of Mumbai and Hong Kong, high buildings require space round them and extensive ground servicing.
Almost everyone in Hong Kong lives in high-rise housing (for some striking photographs, take a look at Michael Wolf’s Architecture of Density). Around 30% of the population live in rented public housing - these are high-rise, high density apartment blocks, but they are safe and certainly not squalid.
Another 17% of people live in high-rise apartments that were sold under the Home Ownership scheme. Not squalid either.
50% of the population live in private housing, the vast majority of which is in high-rise towers, which vary from small and basic to large and luxurious.
Lynsey Hanley used to live on Europe’s largest public housing estate (in Birmingham), and her excellent book “Estates” offers a very personal account of how the British government’s housing policies went horribly wrong and wrecked many people’s lives. She has a more informed - and nuanced - view of the problem:
Tower blocks are generally held to be the least popular form of housing, particularly for people raising families. [..] But that’s not to say other people don’t enjoy living there, for the astonishing views, and for their self-contained nature – which in the most successful cases creates a tight-knit community.
Problems mostly arise when housing managers fail to keep on top of repairs, safety issues, residents’ complaints and other bugbears, such as blocked bin chutes and noisy neighbours. On-site caretakers, when landlords decide they can afford to employ them, solve many of these issues.
Indeed, all Hong Kong apartment blocks have on-site caretakers / security staff and most are well managed. Hence, Hong Kong high-rise housing is safe - and not squalid. Of course you pay more for larger apartments, lower density, and more open space, but that’s true everywhere.