Hong Kong’s “Cubicle Dwellers”

In light of the current political protests in Hong Kong, showcasing a project from the Hong Kong-based Society for Community Organization (SoCO), a non-governmental and human rights advocacy group, seems fitting. SoCO has organized community social actions and civic education programs to encourage political participation since 1972, and it recently brought attention to the unacceptable living conditions of many of the city’s poorer inhabitants in a disturbingly illuminating ad campaign. “Cubicle Dwellers” shows the tiny apartments, averaging only about 40 square feet and too small to be shot from anywhere but above, that over 100,000 people occupy. In these spaces, individuals and families must rest, cook, and store all their personal belongings. Due to Hong Kong’s lack of buildable space, the city has come to be one of the world’s densest, resulting in increasingly tall, tightly-packed dwellings. Indeed, thirty-six of the world’s 100 tallest residential buildings are in Hong Kong, and more people live or work above the 14th floor than anywhere else on Earth, making it the world’s most vertical city. The project highlights how the disparity between industrial growth and human needs can rapidly transform environments, and how an imbalance in the way we distribute our energy resources can paradoxically create places of enormous wealth and widespread poverty.


I was a little torn on posting this because it has that poverty porn feel but it’s just important stuff to realize. The pictures made me think of the hipster-driven Tiny House/Trailer movement. I can just imagine the clickbait headline, “You won’t believe how this family of four live in just 40 square feet!” and inside is an impossibly clean and sparse yet beautifully designed living space. It just seems like the aim in that whole scene is to see who can live in the teeniest space possible (a refurbished dumpster even, for fecks sake) while never giving a thought to the idea of others who live that way because they have to.  Oh, hipsters and their irony.




6 thoughts on “Hong Kong’s “Cubicle Dwellers”

  1. Like yourself I have ambivalent feelings about this but I also had some about your own observations. I’ve followed the so-called “tiny house movement” for years b/c I’m interested in different ways of organizing living space and I can appreciate the difficulty for those who have no choice but to live in a small space but what do you do if you really DO want to live with less and have less (I speak of material goods here)? It seems to turn into one of those rock/hard place arguments. One can live in a little space but but they actually have some money so they’re just being an ironic asshole because others live in worse situations because they have to. I could write a book on this but I’ll stop here. I’d love to read any comments you have. It may have been you or it might have been another one of the poverty/inequality bloggers I read that had similar criticisms of the movement.

    1. Oooh,I’m glad someone else has enough thought on this to write a book! I’d read that LOL

      I think some of my negative feelings about the tiny house thing stems from growing up in a trailer park. That term “trailer trash” and the stigma that comes with living in a trailer stuck with me and then there’s these people who come from a place of privilege moving into trailers and labeling it as a hip lifestyle choice. Ditto for people who fix up chicken coops, woodsheds,etc and actually live in them. People who live in small spaces tend to also be poor and it’s not exactly the place they WANT to be living and living like that isn’t trendy and photo op worthy. I can understand the pros for people who choose to live like that …lower carbon footprint,energy bills,etc but I would feel so much better if as a whole, there was recognition from Tiny House People of how privileged they are and talk about the disparity between how they choose to live and other people who would rather not. I mean, I know families who live in shacks and trailers who are truly poor and even though they have this tiny house, they still can’t pay for heat and basic things people take for granted. Yet a lot of the tiny house people (it feels strange calling them “tiny house people ” LOL) actually advise poor people to “downsize” to get out of poverty. There’s some real disconnect there.
      They also need to stop acting like living in a tiny house is a radical political act because it isn’t. I mean… it changes diddly squat for others.

  2. I came back to read your comment and I agree with it. I lived for awhile in rural Mexico and people who live in a single mud-brick room definitely aren’t trying to make a statement. The point about it not being really changing things for a larger group reminds me of what Erik Loomis at LGM says about buying thrift-shop clothing (a very similar argument plays out here as well) that it’s fine for you to save money this way but it doesn’t change anything bigger–working conditions for labor, people who can’t afford even the clothing at Wal-Mart still can’t afford it, it’s still shoddily made etc., etc. I’m also aware of my own privilege in the sense that I was reading about tiny houses one day and said to myself, “Isn’t this what trailers are?” D’oh! One thing that’s interesting is the way that the esthetics of how one lives become a marker of class even though people do try to make their living quarters comfortable and “nice” if they can.

    1. Oh,YES. I’ve been thinking a lot about all of this lately. I’m a huge thrift-store/secondhand goods supporter, even if I have money. Ethically, it may be true that I am not giving my money to/supporting companies that don’t have fair labor practices, it doesn’t change much beyond making me feel better about not being in that consumerist loop.

      I think it’s really interesting about the aesthetics,too. So much to think about there.

  3. this is the first thing that’s ‘clicked’ with my brain to help me understand why, deep down, I’ve been seething with rage for years. we’ve been robbed. I’ve been robbed. my children have been robbed. I want my house back. I want all the things back that I’ve sold to raise money. I FINALLY don’t feel, strangely, embarrassed for feeling so angry. I’ve been robbed. I feel EMPOWERED. 🙂 I may be female…and old….but I’ve got plenty of roar left. GGGGGGGGGGGRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR !!!!!!!

Say what you need to say here! If this is your first time commenting, here, comments are moderated and will only be visible after I approve it .

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s