Case #1631.1

Epilogue: For a Culture of Building Care

Publication Date: October 01, 2001
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Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, high atop a great many of the older, concrete-block buildings of lower-income parts of central Hong Kong and the neighborhoods of the Kowloon peninsula, informal metal-framed wooden structures were built to house thousands of the city's families in austere, though inexpensive, quarters. These "illegal rooftop structures" comprised what could be a called a shantytown of the air, one made up of structures which, though built illegally, were nonetheless bought, sold, and rented on the open market. Such structures, moreover, were just one example of the larger phenomenon of so-called unauthorized building works in Hong Kong. These UBWs, as they were known in the city's Buildings Department, included balconies added to windows—sometimes used for beds on which people slept high in the air—as well as hundreds of thousands of storefront street signs and canopy extensions to the ground floors of buildings in commercial districts, the latter used to create spaces rented to stores and restaurants. By 1999, it was estimated that UBWs of all kinds in Hong Kong totaled a staggering 800,000. By one estimate, if authorities continued enforcement as they had been doing, it would take more than 130 years to effect the removal of all such structures—assuming that new ones were not built in their place. This case raises the thorny question of the extent to which and methods by which Hong Kong should use the law to minimize or eliminate such unauthorized building works—in a city where some parts of the public care most about public safety, while others—often much poorer—care most about shelter.

Learning Objective:
The case is a vehicle for employing the Kennedy School's "three-circles" approach to public management, wherein public officials must consider the value they offer the public, the capacity they have, and the degree of public support.

Other Details

Case Author:
Howard Husock
Faculty Lead:
Herman (Dutch) B. Leonard
Pages (incl. exhibits):