I need to house 50,000 people but I only have a 2.7 hectares (126m by 213m). Just like Kowloon Walled City.

However, the land is currently empty and I can plan for that many people before they all arrive. I don't want to build a prison, but I equally don't want the city to become a crime den. Instead, I hope to build a functioning liberal democracy that people want to stay in.

My city state would be an independent nation in contemporary Europe. The borders are guarded with passports required to travel in or out. The neighbors are friendly and willing to engage in trade agreements.

What planning can I do before my citizens arrive to avoid the problems Kowloon had? Can that many people live freely in such a small area?

  • $\begingroup$ 50,000 people in 2.7 hectares is really dens, what would be the incentive for people to live here? what suround your city? $\endgroup$
    – Kepotx
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 8:34
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    $\begingroup$ People are like gases... they tend to occupy all the space they have available. There is no way you put 50k people in a deserted area and they all stay in that area. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 8:37
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    $\begingroup$ "What planning can I do before my citizens arrive to avoid the problems Kowloon had?" Can you be more specific? Currently you are asking people to do a lot of research beforehand that you apparently already did. Are you just talking about crime? Btw where do those people work? Where do they spend their leisure time? $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 8:54
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    $\begingroup$ You'd probably do better linking to wikipedia or similar instead of a picture.... $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 9:24
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    $\begingroup$ What kind of building technology do you have available. This becomes a lot more feasible if you can build skyscrapers or buildings with more sublevels than Moria. $\endgroup$
    – Ray
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 13:26

7 Answers 7


First what you need to plan is sewage system. Nothing forces you to become violent criminal like living in excrement. The system should be capacious to such extent that turning off part of it for service wouldn't affect any part of building.

Second things is designing the ziggurat in such way that the building doesn't reflect social division. So poor people at the bottom, rich at the top. Looking at photos of Kowloon you can see that bottom could have gardens or some sort of green. Then at some point, you could make glass floors that would let light into the center of building again making flats above and below such divide more attractive and, of course, pricy.

Third - discreet police. You need to have police on site so there wouldn't be situations like in Dredd movie. At the same time, the visible police cannot be perceived as a threat or suspicion toward the citizens. So something like Hong Kong Police (note that my knowledge of HK police come from Wikipedia, HK police dramas and Sleeping Dogs game) a grunt force that serve more like a security, paramedics, firefighter-taking-cats-out-of-trees type of service.

Fourth - time to get out of such building and escaping to forests, parks etc. What would be attractive to live inside such building is time it take to just close the doors, get to an elevator and call it a day. So maybe not building wide roads and multilevel parking space but rather creating trams, metro and trains stations below and in the middle of building to quickly move to suburbs or outskirts

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    $\begingroup$ I didn't mention sound because that is pretty obvious, to me. Same with AC, constant buzzing can make you go MAD. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 14:11
  • $\begingroup$ What about economy? Independent state should be able to support itself economically to be able to afford sewage, electricity, police, gardens, etc. $\endgroup$
    – user28434
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @user28434 that's totally different question and probably a duplicate of existing one $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ @SZCZERZOKŁY, well current question is What planning can I do before my citizens arrive to avoid the problems Kowloon had?, and economic planning is included in scope of question. $\endgroup$
    – user28434
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 15:32
  • $\begingroup$ Koowlon didn't had economic problem. And in Europe you can have tax heaven like Cyprus or Liechtenstein. While your citizens work in other countries. Like Italians in Switzerland, Belgians in Holland etc. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 15:45

The thing with Kowloon Walled City was not the denseness, it was that there was nobody enforcing the rule of law. It was basically an abandoned area where the monopoly on violence was ceded to the organized crime gangs.

Just make sure you have a police force and preferably a small standing army that is separated from the police. Be strict on corruption. Provide fundamental human rights, such as healthcare and social securities (if you're American these may or may not register as fundamental human rights, but in most European countries it's not up for debate and lacking them will make people leave if they can and you end up having to force them to stay at gunpoint).

Also, there needs to be an incentive to live so densely packed. Preferably you have a highly thriving economy. Moving to your state will be a betterment of life for the inhabitants. They will be better paid and have nicer (if somewhat smaller) apartments than if they lived in the surrounding country/countries. Child care and hospital care will be better.

If those things are in place, the walls will have to be to keep people out, not in...

Edit: SZCZERZO KŁY Is right, a well functioning sewage system should not be overlooked. Also, of course, as some might point out good opportunities for sunlight and recreation is important to the well being of your citizens. Utilizing the rooftops as terraces is a good step, but being able to reserve some of the ground space to use for a park is a good investment in quality of life.

  • $\begingroup$ "Moving to your state will be a betterment of life for the inhabitants. They will be better paid and have nicer (if somewhat smaller) apartments than if they lived in the surrounding country/countries." - Except not. Windows was a luxury. Running water was a luxury. Sewage was an issue. And less than 2x2 meters per person, on average. If you want to bring water and sewage pipes everywhere, you can't have as large as 3.7 m^2 quarters and keep the same population density. You need to go even smaller. No way it would be "nicer", and "somewhat smaller" is understatement. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 10:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Mołot I'm under the impression that the OP does not want to recreate the exact circumstances of the KWC, mainly the denseness. "However, the land is currently empty and I can plan for that many people before they all arrive. I don't want to build a prison, but I equally don't want the city to become a crime den. Instead, I hope to build a functioning liberal democracy that people want to stay in." So I'm discussing a way to do just that. If you want to recreate the squalor of the KWC no planning is needed, it happens organically. $\endgroup$
    – Doomfrost
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 10:23
  • $\begingroup$ Also... the KWC was, at it's highest, around 14 floors high. If you're actually planning and not just growing a highly compressed slum as you go along you can probably build higher houses than that to maximize how you utilize acreage. $\endgroup$
    – Doomfrost
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 10:25
  • $\begingroup$ Lack of police isn't inherently a problem. Any sufficiently organized crime is indistinguishable from government. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark Granted, but from the individual citizens position democratic governments are somewhat preferably to autocratic ones though. Autocratic governments (and I'm going to assume that any organized crime based government will be autocratic) usually leans heavily towards clientelism and corruption, which is disruptive of normal quality of life for most people. $\endgroup$
    – Doomfrost
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 6:41

The problem that Kowloon had and one of the few things that apparently were actually enforced, was a height restriction due to the proximity to a nearby airport, limiting the buildings to 13 or 14 floors. If you do not have that, then simply build up. The tallest residential skyscrapers have close to 100 floors, which would give you several times the living space. And this is more of an economic than a technical limit. If you look around a bit, you will find a lot of architects dreaming about constructing whole cities in a single tall building. For example a proposal like Sky city 1000 is a bit to wide at the bottom but has nearly the required population density at a comfortable level.

Apart from this, you should ask yourself why people would want to live in your country? After all it will be cramped and extremely expensive, as you have to basically import everything. There also won't be much available (legal) work, apart from maintenance as it would be far cheaper to build offices and factories elsewhere. Probably the only good option is to turn it into a tax haven.

This of course directly leads to an existing example, namely Monaco. This densely populated city state officially is home to a lot of rich people who can afford a small apartment there. Of course most of the year they are on "working holiday" in their "secondary homes" somewhere nicer. So the official population density might sound worse than it actually is.

Note however, that this will anger your neighbours. While they might generally be inclined to trade, they will still want to gain something from it. Just taking their tax income for a few meager exports will get you isolated and embargoed in no time. After all you are dependent on imports, so a potential blockade will starve you into submission extremely fast.


Take a cue from modern high density buildings

enter image description here

These are the Galaxy Towers in Gutenburg, NJ. Each of the towers is 44 stores, and has ~1000 people living in them. Of course, that is at the relatively low spatial density of the modern US; each tower has around 300 apartments with roughly 3 people per apartment.

Even at this relatively comfortable amount of space, the towers are pretty good at conserving land area. Each tower is about 40m by 40m on the base. The three towers are about half a hectare.

Now half the size of each apartment, cram six people into each apartment, and put up six towers in your ~3 hectares of ground area and you have hit your desired density.

So if you really want to get that density, you are looking at buildings of ~50 stories, lots of very small apartments, probably shared communal bathrooms, and people who can tolerate living six to a bedroom. Otherwise, construction would probably proceed just like a modern high-rise residential complex.


I'm going a slightly different direction than the other answers here: Kowloon already shows us that it was technologically possible years ago, so I'm not going to focus on what technology is there so much as how your specific scenario came to be.

The Trading Outpost that grew up

You want a limited amount of space, but willingness to trade . . . this sounds to me like it started as a trading outpost.

An example of how this could occur:

In its early days, the outpost was a small territory near the trade routes of several powerful nations that were constantly warring with each other, but any 2 could easily defeat one of the others. Because the territory was so small, and had cost so many lives, the larger nations mutually agreed to its independence. After some time, this independence meant that even citizens of nations at war with each other could do trade here, and this caused a small merchant class to grow into a wealthy merchant class.

Over the years, these merchants built up the natural trade routes to be much better than the surrounding trading options, causing more money to flow through their tiny land, attracting more and more people until eventually they had an enormous population relative to their land mass.

Reasons for the small territory:

Mountain pass: The mountains severely restrict the size of the territory, but since multiple mountain passes cross here, people built it up.

Island: A remote island nearly equidistant to several world powers. The island was a natural place for a trade outpost

Pirates: People like to prey on trade, so trade was restricted to small easily defensible positions.

Dangerous animals: Lions and Elephants are in the territory surrounding this oasis, causing people to stay close together.

Zombies: You never said this had to be completely realistic!

Explicit Answers to the question

Avoiding crime: Wealthy merchants have a strong motivation to encourage trade and prevent crime. Their private police forces would naturally be very unobtrusive, yet quick to react to problems . . . or they would be out of jobs!

Avoiding social unrest: Many wealthy merchants live in the same area, but can't expand too terribly much because there simply isn't the room. They will find ways to be a bit showy about their wealth. (Perhaps decorating their homes with gold or jewels.) (Un)Fortunately (depending on your perspective) there isn't the room to block off roads for the wealthy or powerful, so any person can easily run into anyone else. Therefore politeness and generosity to everyone is probably a trait of this community.

Logistics: This may be a cop out, but . . . A wealthy society that has had years to work out how to handle food, drink and waste processing has indubitably come up with various solutions to this that are far better than I can in a few minutes. :) We know that Kowloon was able to do it on a shoestring budget. Wealthy merchants can definitely accomplish this on their budgets. I would imagine the interior of this territory feels more like a bustling mall than anything else you would quickly think of.


You need social life, like sports clubs, masonic lodges and churches. Tocqueville, in the Democracy In America, noted that most americans were part of some kind of organization, of brotherhoods, and learned politics in these institutions (and that's maybe why America has or had a healthy political system unlike latin america or France, both plagued by coups and revolts).

About religion - it can unite or it can divide and the state security in your arcology will have to supress the religious leaders that bring division, no matter their religion while at the same time allowing for religious expression that does not hurt other people from different religions. Using islam as example: your state security should allow the traditional dresses, food restriction, respect the right of not working fridays while supressing those that talk too much about jihad.

The institutions like the freemasonry and rotary club also act as shock absorbers between the citzen and the hand of the state, that can be quite heavy even in a democracy, giving their members means to act in the political body and a sense of belonging.


Go up 50 storeys

Kai Tak Airport is gone, so no need to limit height.

Assuming you lose 25% of space to infrastructure, you now have 101.25 hectares or 10.9 million square feet (1.01 million square meters). 25% is probably less than most commercial developments today, but you have a much more compelling need to design for space efficiency.

Given 50,000 people, that's 218sq.ft. (20.3 sq.m.) per person. For a singleton that's a fairly respectable "Tiny house". Many "coliving spaces" are tighter than that, with living and kitchen space being in commons areas.

A family of 4 gets 872sf (81.2sm), lush by comparison to 1920-era standalone houses built for working class families.


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