When you’re in a city as space constrained as Hong Kong, building out is not much of an option. In its period of rapid economic growth, with most development concentrated around the island, and population in Kowloon, developers gradually began to eat into Victoria Harbour, reclaiming more land by the decade. But Hong Kong grew so fast that it could not afford to just grow up: it had to grow down.
Underground malls have thus been a feature of Hong Kong, especially the Island and older, more crowded parts of Kowloon, for long parts of its history. Naturally, a makeshift tunnel wouldn’t generate much foot traffic, so these tunnels, and whatever is in them, need a way to lure people in. Ironically, this could seasonally come from humidity or typhoons. But considering that the latter would most often flood the place, the most likely draw would be bright-light advertisements, which would hopefully distract from the seedy nature of basements.
Naturally, no matter how brightly lit they are, these alleyways are still out of the way from people’s natural path, making them the haven of plenty of ma-and-pa establishments and small business. This is increasingly becoming the case as the race to grab finite land pushes real estate and rental prices through the roof.
No pun intended, because there is one type of underground mall that attracts the wealthy. Link one of these to a metro station and you’ll see the rents skyrocket, naturally attracting a more prestigious crowd. Or of course an entire shopping mall. These institutions are threatening the quaint (or seedy!) charm of underground malls – but it sure looks like, at least for now, the race to the bottom (and beyond) is just as prominent as the race to the sky.
Featured locations: Fortress Hill