Overpass hostility defusal

As soon as I saw this tweet on Monday morning, I thought back to the previous evening I spent cataloguing the vibrancy that thrives around Hong Kong’s menagerie of overlooked urban spaces, and in particular around its underpasses and overpasses.

Of the handful we explored, I’m a particular fan of this one in the city’s Mongkok neighborhood – by one count the most densely populated neighborhood on the planet. By its hostile design/architecture pillars restricting motorcyclists from parking their rides there and homeless from “sleeping rough” beneath the stairs, these same menacing-looking pillars have unlocked an entirely different use.

For Sunday evening streetside diners and revelers, these pillars have now become passable (if not exceptionally comfortable) seats, on which one can enjoy one’s spicy fish ball skewers, picked up fresh from the adjacent restaurants. Placement and spacing turns out to be nearly ideal for carrying on a conversation with one’s neighbor.

Like many overlooked pockets in Hong Kong’s urban fabric, the remaining unoccupied space beneath the stairway is used as storage for the adjacent enterprises. Brooms, dustpans, and cardboard boxes of styrofoam takeout containers are tightly Tetris’ed beneath the stairs. Like the hostile design pillars, these cardboard boxes, too, are repurposed by the shops’ customers as both backrests and impromptu phone stands for videocalling one’s friends.

Thinking back to Nicholas Reece’s tweet, just imagine if this space was intentionally designed to attract instead of repel people? The same question stands for the Pecha-Kucha presentation I made at 2014’s EPIC Conference about the informal economies that flourish in overpasses and underpasses across urban China (where I also go into the confluence of forces that have led these spaces to be so popular for those trying to make a living in China’s cities). Myanmar is also no stranger to creatively repurposed underpasses and overpasses (amongst other space claims), like this outdoor warehouse for the adjacent department store.

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