1–5 Every Sunday in Hong Kong 400,000 Filipino domestic workers peacefully occupy the streets of the financial district by erecting thousands of temporary cardboard shelters, mimicking the privacy and homeliness they dramatically lack six out of seven days. | Jeden Sonntag besetzen 400.000 philippinische Hausangestellte den Finanzdistrikt von Hongkong, indem sie Tausende temporäre Kartonbehausungen errichten und damit jene Privatsphäre und Wohnlichkeit informell leben, die ihnen sechs von sieben Tagen der Woche verwehrt werden. Copyrights of all illustrations © Fritz Strempel, 2019
GAM 16

Together We Thrive!
Informal Appropriation of Space and Resistance in the Urban Density of Hong Kong

Fritz Strempel

Hong Kong of 2019 is symbolic for how many of the most pressing social questions of our time, about human life, and, rightly, about urban commons need to be looked at through the lens of the conditions of urban cohabitation. At no point in recent history have we seen a city articulate its frictions and its historic ambivalences in the manner of such largescale informal appropriations of its space as in Hong Kong of 2019, with millions of people on the streets for months. The thoughts and photos to this essay were produced in July 2019 during the first height of the first popular protests of two million urban residents against the feared loss of fundamental democratic freedoms. In this moment in Hong Kong’s history, the city can, in many ways, act as a laboratory of speculative futures around urban density as a whole: in Hong Kong, amid the highest population density and lowest housing affordability in the world, all urban frictions and all questions about density, about public and private space, eastern and western conceptions of cities, formal and informal processes, them and us—here, they obtain a more momentous meaning than elsewhere. This essay’s title, “Together we thrive!” quotes the advertising slogan that covers the full facade of Hong Kong’s built icon of its hegemony of financial power, the HSBC Bank Tower in Central— in front of which the popular protest has been played out for months. The slogan on the facade becomes a physical and architectural backdrop to the resistance to the city’s regime of corporate and political power, proving how the informal appropriation of urban space in ways contrary to its formal programming can even invert its built iconography and narratives: “Together we thrive!” is informally appropriated by the protesters and gains a new, opposite meaning, becoming a slogan suddenly owned—commoned,[1]  I would say—by the public.

In Hong Kong, the definition of and attitude towards public space in the urban realm reflects its history as caught between Chinese heritage and British colonial rule. Both influences have contributed in their own ways to a lack of public space that is rooted in what scholars have identified as a cultural disregard of the importance of public space.[2] In some denser neighborhoods, this results in less than 0.5 square meter of public space per capita.[3] While the traditional custom of ancient Chinese culture, in which gathering in public space was widely forbidden “for the country’s well-being,”[4] may have contributed to this, the influence of Hong Kong being perceived as a “borrowed land on borrowed time”[5] by the British inevitably shifted the colonial government’s priorities to being primarily focused on economic performance rather than the longterm well-being of its residents in urban planning.[6]

1–5 Every Sunday in Hong Kong 400,000 Filipino domestic workers peacefully occupy the streets of the financial district by erecting thousands of temporary cardboard shelters, mimicking the privacy and homeliness they dramatically lack six out of seven days.
© Fritz Strempel, 2019

In recent generations, as a Special Administrative Region under the government of China, Hong Kong has become the twenty-first century paradigmatic capital of consumerism. Of all cities in the world, Hong Kong has the most shopping malls, some reaching tens of stories which have “become cities in and of themselves, accommodating tens of thousands of people who live, work, and play within a single structure.”[7] The countless privately-owned passages, adjacent to commercial buildings, malls and plazas have become an important contribution to connectivity and pedestrian mobility in the dense city. With one mall per square mile,[8] places of consumerism have become more than just additional spaces for a kind of public, but rather have become the replacement of traditional public space itself. Overpowered by this consumerist paradigm as the vernacular of Hong Kong’s contemporary public space, any idealist notion of public space as a commons, owned by the public and accessible for all, has lost its clarity as a symbol of civil society.[9]

What makes a city beyond its built form, I ask?[10]And how do we have to rethink commons in such a definition of the city? I say, what makes a city is our being-in-common[11] among the forces and conditions that we, its dwellers, are exposed to. A commonness in which our being together despite all differences as a community is a commons12[12] itself, echoing how Jean-Luc Nancy inspiringly thinks of us as a “community of being.”[13] While the planned urban form is merely built, a city, however, is performed into being through its inhabitants. A city consists of the relationality between its dwellers, and conceptualizing the city in this way includes the unknowns, the ambivalences, contradictions and—above all—the informality of the non-planned-for, informal. The city as a network of social relations “is friction, is tension,”[14] and commoning it will certainly consist of “informal, messy processes.”[15] The city is enacted through the inhabitants’ co-creating, co-dreaming, coclaiming of its spatial resources in often contradictory ways. Such a city is made of the simultaneousness of differences, through the co-existence of various informal social practices of commoning the city’s spatial assets. Such a definition of the city inevitably asks us to develop a theory on its social commons, the social urban commons.

How can the built form of such a city offer space that is truly for all, that is truly a commons? In such a context, the commons prerequisite of being truly for all is debatable, hinting at the natural limitations of traditional theories around commons in the city. In the city’s built form, being the most distinctly planned-for, designed and formalized spatiality, its formal programming can quite rightly be seen as “never beneficial to everyone[16] or to all identities and uses—a phrase used by Horst Rittel that echoes his own legitimate diagnosis of the dilemma of planning and design as a whole. Even the most well-designed or democratically planned-for urban space is somehow of a distinctly exclusive nature to some, whether physically, legally, or socially. To identify a commons in the city we must therefore elevate the concept to a sphere unbound by the limitations of design and planning, separate it from physical infrastructure. We cannot design or build a commons, but instead can only enact it, perform it, encourage it, or in turn, accept it, allow it.

In challenging traditional theories of the urban commons, asking them to be far more than a shared technical facility of public convenience or a piece of urban green open for picnics, we might arrive at an understanding of what inspired the (otherwise uninspiring) idea of Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons.”[17] His theory did not pay tribute to the inclusive character within the idea of commons, framing them as being cared for by none because of being available to all. His theory outlines an understanding of commons where everyone would feel entitled to individual gains from the commons, disrespecting the community of commoners and thus calling for laws and exclusion to maintain the commons, and limit individual freedom. The narrowness of this theory is in its rigid understanding of what functions are attributed to the commons, as it implies that a commons would be dedicated to one purpose only as a programmed space: common land for grazing cattle, a public toilet for bodily relief or a public park for civilized leisure activity. If we keep such a narrow understanding of a commons, it will hardly work as an inclusive space of identification for all people.

A public park, surely, can be seen as an urban commons—not by being a park owned by public authority, rather by the diversity of ways it is appropriated. While it may have been designed for recreational leisure activity for use by the neighborhood, formalized by design and behavioral norms, it is the informal occupation of the park for unplanned, multiple, spontaneous uses in spite of its designed purpose that commons the space of the park. The park’s occupation by demonstrators, by communities engaging in a spontaneous religious practice, groups of skateboarders grinding on its rails or simply by people coming to the park to find, offer, negotiate or exercise labor in public space: these processes of informal appropriation create the commons; they “common” the space. The latter example of finding and offering labor is striking as it shows how abstract fundamental rights, such as collective bargaining, depend on public space. We see no designs for public space to cater to unemployed, marginalized social groups, allowing them to congregate for finding occasional labor, and yet the International Labour Organization has rightly connected many labor-related rights to public spaces.[18] In reality, therefore, some fundamental rights that depend on public space also depend on its informal appropriation. To stick with a traditional example of an urban commons, the park, I claim that it becomes a commons through the multiplicity of its uses, claimed informally contrary to its purpose, design, or terms of use.

3 © Fritz Strempel, 2019

Why is it important to highlight this informality? Because we are facing the age of the “urbanocene,”[19] the age in which almost all of the human population will live in cities. In one generation, 6.3 billion people will live urban lives, that is seven out of ten humans. [20] With many social implications already visible today: housing prices in cities continue to soar causing a growing set of social challenges of spatial injustice.[21] Distances to be travelled within cities have increased due to spatially segregating housing to other locales of daily life in the city, raising the attractiveness of non-physical venues for public life, simply by dislocating the urban residents from potential places of identification. A culture of competition enforces a singularization of the individual in society, weakening the foundations of community identity and democracy, the sense of belonging to a “we,” as urban residents simply lose the physical sites to emplace the narratives and practices that constitute community.[22]

While living in cities is commonly considered to be conducive to human development,[23] the density of the built environment and the discouragement of participation within today’s megacities breed an epidemic of loneliness, abstraction, and disembodiment, driven by neoliberal paradigms of economic growth and a traditionally capitalist but pervasive idea of efficiency.[24] The built environment formalizes this culture of competition, resulting in what Hardt and Negri paradigmatically describe as a “desocialization of the common”[25] within the urban. Physical density acts as an accelerant to many of the biggest social challenges in the urban realm. In Hong Kong, the densest urban environment in the world, this attains a poignant manifestation: Its seven million residents use only as little as 26 percent of total available land due to historic, economic, and political reasons. The built-up area is contained, condensed, and kept under pressure, resulting in as little as 3.8 percent of land utilization for housing [26] amidst a grave housing crisis.

While in some areas as many as 400,000 residents share a square kilometer,[27] London’s most dense neighborhood is home to 10,000 residents per square kilometer. As a result of such high economic competition around space in the built environment, in which commercial activity dominates in the competition over private needs and activities, the area claimed by private housing was forced to be dramatically reduced: Depending on the source, Hong Kong’s average flat is as small as 43 square meters; that is, the size of two parking spaces. This urban condition comes necessarily and dramatically at the cost of privacy, recreation, and community life.

As part of this dispersing force to a cohesive urban society, most spatial qualities establishing social interaction and community identity traditionally related to our homes (to the common corridors and the porches and steps in front of our homes) have been bequeathed to programmed public spaces or shopping malls. Especially in large housing developments for low- and middle-income residents, as those most vulnerable to economic pressures in the urban realm, the sanitized vernacular of housing blocks discourages any uncontrolled, informal penetration of the residents’ private space into the public realm. Private lives are stored away behind apartment doors, public life is channeled into locales of consumption or programmed behavior. So called “public” spaces, or “plazas,”[28]  are used to buffer the social consequences of the industrial production and reduction of private spaces. What housing developments lack, public space was asked to make up for. And, whilst public space today is far from being neglected by often well-meaning urban planning even public space—which progressive urban theorists have recently and rightfully conceptualized to be a right of urban residents[29]—has most dramatically fallen victim to the culture of transforming even public entitlements into consumer goods.[30] New “public spaces” open “for all” are being created, most often only in exchange for the increased financial profit of very few (as in Hong Kong’s storied POSPDs[31]). In considering the social urban commons, I propose to conceive of commons beyond patterns of ownership or governance of space but rather as diverse practices of how spaces are interpreted and appropriated.

Symptomatic of a global trend is Hong Kong’s built icon of the city’s hegemony of corporate power, the HSBC bank tower in the Central District. It received a “bonus”[32] (nota bene the language) commercial floor area of an extra 14,801 square meters[33] of the city’s most precious resource—space—for making less than 20 percent of this bonus area available to the public as a privately owned, highly controlled and strongly policed pedestrian passage on ground level. While in 2014 Hong Kong headed the global ranking of the crony-capitalism index by The Economist, with billionaire wealth making up for as much as 80 percent of the local GPD[34]  (largely that of real estate tycoons), today the average wait time for an affordable flat in a public housing estate is roughly six years.[35]

This represents an urban reality in dense cities around the world and is a stark display of the political socio-spatial dialectic, where the urban regime of politics and business shapes urban space, which itself is then in turn shaped by spatial order.[36] This highlights the political dimension of urban density as it introduces the question of sovereignty into the conceptualization of urban commons. It reminds us to ask who takes control of the city’s resources and who inhibits the appropriation of space of some by others. This environment of sociospatial competition and friction undoubtedly gives evidence of Ambrose King’s sociological analysis, that rapid urbanization causes a politicizing of the apolitical strata.[37] In Hong Kong’s recent history, this is evidenced by the urban conflicts that gave expression to the contesting Stadtanschauungen[38] within the city: the Hijacking Public Space movement in 2008 around Times Square Mall, the large anti-capitalist Occupy Central movement in 2011, the large-scale pro-democracy-driven Umbrella Movement of 2014 occupying the central highway for months, and this year’s mass protests which are growing into a protest against the current political culture as a whole and its impacts on the residents’ daily lives in the city.

4 © Fritz Strempel, 2019

Nobody will argue that making political demands visible, a role commonly and traditionally attributed to public space, is independent of the physical sites of a city that enable communities to do so. But beyond that, and fundamental to this essay’s definition of the social urban commons, are the (informal) processes by which these physical sites are being appropriated, the circumstances under which these appropriations are being performed and, most importantly, which force claims sovereignty in this process. The political protests in Hong Kong exemplify the question of sovereignty in a theoretical but striking way: if, for example, freedom of assembly—the fundamental freedom held by all urban citizens in a democracy—requires a physical site in which to be carried out, do its assemblies depend on being protected by the state and its norm-enforcing allies of capital power, or does it depend on being protected from them by the people?[39] The question of popular sovereignty versus the sovereignty of the state over the city’s spatial articulation of claims thus hints at the vital contribution of forms of resistance to the system’s norms, laws or architecturally-coded formalities. The protest, as a form of popular sovereignty, empowers a process of “reflexive self-making” of communities which is “separate from the very representative regime it legitimates.”[40]

Resistance, including resistance to architecturallycoded formalities of the city such as blocking some streets with barriers and flooding others with millions of people, becomes a practice of commoning the city’s spatial assets (in this case, the asset of the diversity of political claims and the freedom to make them both visible and spatial). It gives evidence to Hershkovitz’s view on the appropriation of symbolic political spaces such as Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. There, no less than in Hong Kong, “the power of oppositional movements rests on their ability to appropriate ‘the space of the other.’”[41] While commons are traditionally defined in literature as “collectively shared property,”[42] I argue that the informal process of resistance, the sovereignty reclaimed by a collective through engaging in such an act, is likewise a type of collectively shared property[43] and a right owned by everyone who desired to resist. Resistance is proven to be a spatial potential, abstractly available to all. It is held by and exercised by the protesters blocking a street in the same way as a skater resists behavioral norms and interprets a handrail to be sports gear. While I certainly do not argue for an abolishment of laws or a general disregard of considerate social norms, I assert that within the system of contradictory forces of a city, it is often only the abstract process of resistance by a minority that guarantees and claims the spatial coexistence of diverse positions, interpretations, and identities within the urban realm. Scholars (such as Nicholas Blomley[44]) see resistance—for example, against the enclosure of a commons—merely as the proof of the existence of a commons. I argue, however, that resistance itself is fulfilling the core quality to define it as a commons itself. Simply by informally enacting and reclaiming and not by planning or designing that “open access,” which is itself a “central social value arising from open democratic societies,”[45] the space is commoned through resistance.

Resistance, beyond a political dimension, takes on diverse manifestations in the density of Hong Kong, even and possibly most poignantly in the consequences of the housing crisis. In Hong Kong, housing prices have spiked 445 percent over the past 15 years,[46] identified by the 2019 Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey as the least affordable city in the world.[47] In such a regime of competition for urban space, informal appropriation of interstitial spaces (of rooftops, underpasses, back alleys or any other commercially non-cultivable urban niches) becomes the only means by which urban residents can individually participate in co-creating more diverse forms of urban housing, in resistance to the dominant and formal methods. The sheer extent of Hong Kong’s rooftop slums tells a story about commoning the city through resistance: the thousands of informal, illegally built, dense dwellings on extensive and connected rooftops in the most central parts of the city form rural structures of cohabitation, autonomous from traditional real estate markets, built from sheet metal, brick and plastic, sharing and informally claiming access to electricity and other infrastructures. While space itself is a “subtractive resource,”[48] as Elinor Ostrom conceptualizes the commons,[49] such resistance—which allows for the informal appropriation of space—is itself certainly not subtractive, but rather a symbol of claimed co-existence of more than one system of producing housing in the city, and therefore fundamentally “additive.” Here, too, it is this resistance that is a practice of commoning the city. While I most certainly wish to avoid fetishizing deprived circumstances, these tens of thousands of alternative lives among modern urbanites do at least serve as an example of large-scale participation in the discussion of what else the city can be.

Having grown quickly during large waves of immigration since the 1970s, such informal phenomena prove the coexistence of alternative modes of producing housing under intense urban pressure and informally juxtapose more autonomous, improvised, heterogeneous, less sanitized and less controlled spaces to be represented on the spectrum of different interpretations of the city. They offer an antithesis to the dominant modes of production by using materials at hand, reusing it to constantly alter the built form over time. They are built and maintained by the residents; anyone is an architect, and the residents become the urban planners. Echoing the growing literature on the contribution of informal dwellings to questions of how to deal with rapid urbanization, such alternative housing practices in Hong Kong give agency and physical space to communities who would otherwise be displaced to the neglected margins of the city.[50] Here, they have informally appropriated the most central, theoretically most valuable space in the city in the rooftops of very central neighborhoods. These alternative practices of housing remind us to be “learning to see past the spatial irregularity, the surface grime and the patchy aesthetic to understand the economic resilience, the social cohesion, the autonomy, the technological ingenuity, the remarkable skills of everyday living that can flourish in informal housings.”[51] The informal appropriation of space that provided housing to tens of thousands of urban residents also reclaimed a “social breathing space”[52] in the dense network of social relations and its frictions. This participation, thus, is a practice of commoning the urban space.

4 © Fritz Strempel, 2019

Under these strained housing conditions, physical proximity, a culture of competition and lack of real public communal space open for diverse interpretations by diverse communities, the most fundamental qualities of what spatially constitutes a home are eroded. With Hong Kong rising as an international financial hub and with increasing living costs, household structures are increasingly becoming double income households, leaving household work to an incoming community of several hundred thousand live-in domestic workers, mostly from the Philippines. But with space being the scarcest urban resource in Hong Kong, this has resulted in fundamental violations of the most basic living standards of this large community of migrants: hundreds of thousands of people were deprived of privacy and cultural expression by being forced to sleep on the floor, in corridors or kitchens of their employer’s already too small apartments. These circumstances of spatial, cultural and social deprivation have given rise to a unique practice of resistance to the spatial regime or architecturally coded norms of behavior of the modern city: every Sunday in Hong Kong 400,000 Filipino domestic workers (that is, one in twenty Hong Kong residents) peacefully occupy the streets of the financial district, skywalks, underpasses, traffic islands, stairways or entries of the banking towers, shopping malls and even entire highways by erecting thousands of temporary cardboard shelters, mimicking the privacy, homeliness and autonomy they dramatically lack six out of seven days being housed in the corridors of their employers. (figs. 1–5) This appropriation of space is an act of informally reclaimed and non-planned-for participation in the city. It commons the city and gives visibility to more than just a community. It makes visible the social dimension of a complex system of strained urban conditions through a large-scale informal appropriation of city space. Every Sunday, on their one day off work, from dawn until late at night, the urban landscape of bank towers, highways and shopping malls is temporarily reinterpreted by this large community, juxtaposing the architecture of cosmopolitanism with temporary informal “transnational”[53] architectures in a temporary urban assemblage.

By occupying the ground of much of Hong Kong’s Central district, they claim, control and create spaces that are connected to both Hong Kong and Philippine national imaginaries.[54] The erected structures, ranging from approximately two to thirty square meters in size, most often consist of cardboard covering the floor and a circumference arrangement of cardboard walls that are held up by wire or cords suspended from ceilings or railings, often with roofs. Stretching kilometers on sidewalks, stairs, and under bridges, thousands of cardboard shelters compose a city within the city. From an urban perspective, this congregation is more than simply a social gathering of a community. It is an ephemeral city, built and dedicated entirely to the temporary creation of qualities of life that are traditionally enacted in homes—privacy, sharing a homecooked meal, watching movies or hosting friends—for a community lacking homes in which to do so. Inside these makeshift compartments, a phantasma[55] of private housing is enacted: shoes are left “outside” and different corners are dedicated to different uses, from eating to sleeping, with those in adjacent compartments becoming neighbors for a day. Together these assemblages compose a temporary urban enclave with its own kind of housing density, its own architectural articulation with its own (cardboard) borders between public and private spheres.[56] It is a way to very informally reclaim a degree of sovereignty over very basic deprived domestic qualities and activities by way of this informal appropriation of the city: the day is spent sleeping, singing karaoke, and exchanging goods and gossip across this network of a temporary city, which at night is disassembled again and disappears without a trace, making way for the bankers and business people to dominate the space only a few hours later. The community disappears again to work under strained housing conditions, with one in ten domestic workers being forced to sleep in a kitchen, toilet, or corner of the living room.[57] While the temporarily occupied territories morph public open spaces and privately-owned corporate spaces, the sheer scale of this informal appropriation of space has resulted in a surprising degree of tolerance[58] from government and businesses which neither encourages, nor effectively restricts it. They instead have come to pragmatically add Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, to the public signs in this area,[59] thus rendering it a community legitimately associated with this space.

It’s the same streets that were being occupied by protesters on a Saturday, domestic workers on Sunday and bankers on Monday, at times overlapping, adding periodical layers of very different identities, demands and realities to the urban experience. The process of appearing and the ability to do so in urban space, resisting the programming of a heterogenous account of public decency, is a process of commoning the network of relations that make the city. The coming together of bodies in distinct spatialities articulates the complex claims of the community simply by being present, even without public chanting and without acting in concert.[60] This commoning, as any, “is a messy and fragmented process in which transformation takes place,”[61] as Gibson-Graham et al. argue, echoing my account of commoning the city as being informal and nonplanned-for.

This example from Hong Kong’s very particular urban condition of today exemplify how resistance—and, therefore, informal processes of appropriating the city against the programming of its hegemonic forces of political and financial power—shows that commons are enacted through a push and pull of passive toleration and the proactive processes of informal appropriation: The popular protest, which, driven by a lack of truly public space, physically altered the built environment and its narratives through occupying it, gave evidence of this informally claimed sovereignty just as much as the informal dwellings of the rooftop slums do informally claim co-existence of more diverse forms of habitation in central neighborhoods. Thirdly, and most strikingly, also the community of domestic workers proved the same: in strained urban conditions, only the resistance, the informal occupation of space had guaranteed this community their rightful space in the spatial competition amid high-density and commodification of even public spaces. In all three phenomena, multiplicity is the result of a spatially-articulated debate, where claiming and letting-beclaimed sustain an informal balance in a system otherwise dominated by control. This acknowledgement gives evidence that “taking it to the streets” becomes more than a metaphor for public discontent and demonstrations. The streets, the built environment of the city, its architecture and public space become actors in the democratic performativity of society at large.[62] The informal appropriation of spaces thus empowers claims and realities to be taken seriously and to be scrutinized—not by erasing, but by allowing or even creating friction.[63] The city, beyond a democratic participation in political terms, becomes participatory at large by allowing the informal appropriation and re-interpretation of physical sites of representation for its diverse communities. Any urban planner or politician, any architect or developer must come to acknowledge that this is an essential contribution to a socially cohesive life in the city. This is commoning the city’s social assets. While I certainly do not want to reduce political responsibility for governing the city and certainly discourage any act of destructive violence in any informal appropriation, this theory must be understood as a gesture of bowing to alternative, informal methods of interpreting the city.

So how do we approach the challenging friction that is inherent to the definition of the city acquired herein? While today’s modern megacities have mostly embarked on dealing with frictions with police and policy, I believe we should be reminded that it is the attitude of letting-be, often of not-acting, not enforcing in our human-to-city relation, the gesture of tolerating coexistence and juxtapositions as the strategy for dealing with urban friction that brings into being social urban commons and, thus, contributes to the resilience, discursivity, and openness of any city. With this acknowledgment, urban space can and must become the abstract higher representative of the diversity it accommodates. ■

[1] While the term commons is known to most from political economics as resources that are being made accessible to all members of a society (e.g. material or spatial commons such as a public park or immaterial commons such as language …) the verb commoning, in this context, describes the process by which a society or community turns a resource into being commonly shared, thus, commoning it.

[2] See Claire Lo Ka Man, “A Critical Study of the Public Space in Hong Kong” (paper presented at the MCS symposium, Hong Kong, Lingnan University, February 23, 2013).

[3] Ibid., 4 (quoting from the Chinese original source).

[4] Charlie Xue and Kevin Manuel, “The Quest for Better Public Space: A Critical Review of Hong Kong,” in Public Places in Asia Pacific Cities, ed. Pu Miao (Boston, 2001), 185.

[5] A term widely used by Hong Kongers to refer to the colonial rule. It was made popular in the late 60s after Richard Hughes book titled Hong Kong: Borrowed Place – Borrowed Time (New York, 1968).

[6] See Lo Ka Man, “A Critical Study of the Public Space in Hong Kong” (see note 2).

[7] Stefan Al quoted from the book cover of ibid., ed., Mall City: Hong Kong’s Dreamworlds of Consumption (Honolulu, 2016).

[8]  Ibid., 7.

[9] See Alexander Cuthbert and Keith McKinnell, “Ambiguous Space, Ambiguous Rights: Corporate Power and Social Control in Hong Kong,” Cities 14, no. 5 (1997): 295–311, esp. 302.

[10] By questioning what at all makes a city, it must be recognized that it can naturally never be free of western conceptions of city, freedoms and democracy. While in many ways, western cities do represent equal phenomena like the ones described in Hong Kong on smaller or less intense scale, it cannot fully avoid to be tainted by a western perspective onto an eastern city. That is why I invite to understand terms such as “freedom,” “democracy” and even “city,” beyond their political or cultural definitions (for as much as possible), but rather on a meta level as aspects of human interrelations, open for different understandings and unbound to concrete cultural definitions.

[11] See Jean-Luc Nancy, “Of Being-in-Common,” in Community at Loose Ends, ed. Miami Collective (Minneapolis, 1991), 1–12.

[12] Nancy defines “being” to be the strongest of all commons, creating a “community of beings,” thus, despite their differences, simply through being. See ibid.

[13] Ibid., 1.

[14] Andreas Unteidig, Blanca Dominguesz Cobreros, Elizabeth Calderon Lüning and Gesche Joost, “Digital Commons, Urban Struggles and the Role of Design,” Design Journal 20 (2017): 3106–3120.

[15] J.K. Gibson-Graham, Jenny Cameron and Stephen Healy, “Commoning as a Postcapitalist Politics,” in Releasing the Commons: Rethinking the Futures of the Commons, eds. Ash Amin and Philip Howell (London and New York, 2016), 20.

[16] Horst Rittel, The Reasoning of Designers (Montreal, 1987), 7. The author’s own emphasis.

[17] Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Science 162 (1968): 1243–1248.

[18] See David Tajgman and Karen Curtis, Freedom of Association: A User’s Guide-Standards, Principles, and Procedures of the International Labour Organization (Geneva, 2000).

[19] The term is pretty new, starting to be reflected in academia and most recently coined by the physicist Geoffrey West in his book Scale – The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies (New York, 2017).

[20] UN World Urbanisation Prospects 2018.

[21] See Edward Soja, “The City and Spatial Justice,” Spatial Justice 1 (2009), available online at: https://web.archive.org/web/20100702145709/http://www.jssj.org/media/jssj_focus.pdf (accessed December 11, 2019).

[22] See John Parkinson, Democracy and Public Space: The Physical Sites of Democratic Performance (Oxford, 2012).

[23] See Emma Harries, “Social Isolation and its Relationship to the Urban Environment,” Research to Practice Paper (Montreal, 2016).

[24] See Rittel, The Reasoning of Designers (see note 16), 158.

[25] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Commonwealth (Cambridge, 2009), 258.

[26] See Hong Kong Planning Department, available online at: https://www.pland.gov.hk/pland_en/tech_doc/hkpsg/full/index.htm (accessed December 11, 2019).

[27] See Anthony Yeh, “High-Density Living in Hong Kong,” in Cities, Health and Well-Being, eds. Ricky Burdett, Myfanwy Taylor and Adam Kaasa (London and Berlin, 2011), 31, available online at: https://lsecities.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/2011_chw_3050_Yeh.pdf (accessed December 11, 2019).

[28] To use the contemporary term which, to me, never ceases to resound the language of real estate marketing brochures and shopping malls.

[29] For example, Gregory Smithsimon.

[30] See Judith Butler, Notes Towards A Performative Theory of Assembly (Cambridge, 2015), 159.

[31] Abbreviation for Public Open Space in Private Development.

[32] Yang Yu, “The Changing Urban Political Order and Politics of Space: A Study of Hong Kong’s POSPD Policy,” Urban Affairs Review 51, no. 4 (2018): 732–760.

[33] Ibid., 744.

[34] Ibid., 741.

[35] See Naomi Ng, “Waiting Time for A Hong Kong Public Housing Flat Longest in 18 Years,” South China Morning Post, August 10, 2018, available online at: https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/community/article/2159237/waiting-time-hong-kong-public-housing-flat-longest-18-years (accessed December 11, 2019).

[36] See Yu, “The Changing Urban Political Order” (see note 32), 734.

[37] See Ambrose Yeo-chi King, “Administrative Absorption of Politics in Hong Kong: Emphasis on the Grass Roots Level,” Asian Survey 15, no. 5 (1975): 422–439, esp. 438.

[38] Stadtanschauungen is an update to the philosophical term Weltanschauungen, a calque from German for “worldviews,” describing the grand political ideologies on a global scale. Alternatively, the term Stadtanschauungen (“views on the city”) clearly alludes to how grand political ideologies are expressed most evidently in the politics of urban space.

[39] See Parkinson, Democracy and Public Space (see note 22).

[40] Butler, “Notes Towards a Performative Theory of Assembly” (see note 30), 171.

[41] Linda Hershkovitz, “Tiananmen Square and the Politics of Place,” Political Geography 12 (1993): 395.

[42] Amanda Huron, “Working with Strangers in Saturated Space: Reclaiming and Maintaining the Urban Commons,” Antipode 47, no. 4 (2015), 963–979, esp. 963.

[43] See Miriam Williams, “Urban Commons Are More-Than-Property,” Geographical Research 56, no. 1 (2018): 16–25.

[44] Nicholas Blomley, “Enclosure, Common Right, Property of the Poor,” Social & Legal Studies 17, no. 3 (2008): 311–331.

[45] Maja Bruun, “Communities and the Commons: Open Access and Community Ownership of the Urban Commons,” in Urban Commons: Rethinking the City, eds. Christian Borch and Martin Kornberger (Milton Park, 2015), 153–170, esp. 156.

[46] See Shirley Zhao, “Law and Crime – One in Four Hong Kong Properties Has Illegal Structures, but Most Owners Get Away with Their Misdeeds,” South China Morning Post, January 22, 2018.

[47] Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey (2019).

[48] Elinor Ostrom, “Beyond Markets and States. Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems,” American Economic Review 100, no. 3 (2010): 641–672.

[49] See also Huron, “Working with Strangers in Saturated Space” (see note 42) or Phil Hubbard, “Sex Zones: Intimacy, Citizenship and Public Space,” Sexualities 4, no. 1 (2001), 51–71.

[50] See also note 10, as most of such commentary on informal dwellings are representing a western understanding, such as the following source in note 51 by the World Economic Forum being, in my understanding, the epitome of a western capitalism-driven Weltanschauung. While this does not eradicate the point of the argument, it shall simply be noted.

[51] Stephen Cairns, “What Slums Can Teach Us About Building the Cities of the Future,” World Economic Forum, 2019, available online at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/03/why-slums-could-providethe-housing-inspiration-of-the-future/(accessed December 11, 2019).

[52] Pamela Shaw and Joanne Hudson, The Qualities of Informal Space: (Re) Appropriation Within the Informal, Interstitial Spaces of the City, proceedings of the conference “Occupation: Negotiations with Constructed Space,” July 2–4, 2009, University of Brighton (Brighton, 2009).

[53] Lisa Law, “Defying Disappearance: Cosmopolitan Public Spaces in Hong Kong,” Urban Studies 39, no. 9 (2002): 1625–1645, esp. 1629.

[54] The term “imaginaries” is worth to be defined here: Rooted in sociology and often used as “social imaginaries,” it refers to how a group of people, here Philippine nationals, perceive, or imagine, the social whole of their community through a common understanding of social codes, laws, institutions and symbols. See also Law, “Defying Disappearance” (see note 53).

[55] In the Aristotelian terminology, “phantasma” refers to the “mental picture” of something we imagine, fantasize.

[56] See ibid.

[57] See Joseph Hincks, “In the World’s Most Expensive City, 1 in 10 Maids Sleeps in a Kitchen, Toilet, or Corner of the Living Room,” Time Magazine, May 19, 2017, available online at: https://time.com/4775376/hong-kongmigrant-workers-maids-helpers-conditions/ (accessed December 11, 2019).

[58] Strictly speaking only after decades and a number of different legal approaches of relocating the phenomenon to other locals which were simply not effective.

[59] See Jasmine Tillu, “Spatial Empowerment: The Appropriation of Public Spaces by Filipina Domestic Workers in Hong Kong” (Master Thesis, MIT, 2011).

[60] See Gibson-Graham, “Commoning as a Postcapitalist Politics” (see note 15), 171.

[61] Ibid.

[62] See also note 10.

[63] See Parkinson, Democracy and Public Space (see note 22).