For some four years or so, between 1987 and 1991 when the City was still fully occupied, Greg Girard and I spent innumerable days in the City recording its architectural fabric and spaces as well as many of the people who lived and worked there.
Internal circulation was minimal, with just four alleys that offered anything like a direct link between Tung Tau Tsuen Road on the City’s northern boundary and Lung Chun Road (actually a pedestrian footpath) that ran along the City’s southern edge. None of these were straightforward thoroughfares: all twisted and turned to varying degrees as they passed between the ever encroaching buildings, as well as stepping down at regular intervals to take in the three storey or so drop in the site from north to south.
For the most part, the main alleys were well-lit and were kept clean and tidy, but step off these main routes into the many smaller side alleys and conditions deteriorated rapidly – light levels fell, sometimes to almost complete darkness, and nearly all were lined above with water pipes that dripped constantly on the uneven ground, making the going treacherous.
In certain places these side alleys became a veritable maze as they interlinked and stepped around buildings and, without any discernible landmarks or distant views, it was all too easy to become totally disorientated. You just had to stumble on until, hopefully, you popped out again onto one of the main thoroughfares, the direction of their slope offering a handy way of finding a way out – up the hill northwards to Tung Tau Tsuen Road and down towards Lung Chun Road and the neighbouring park to the south.
Every trip was an adventure and you would never know for sure what you would find. Even long-term residents were wary of stepping off into unknown parts of the City, most preferring to stick to the alleys they knew best – usually the most direct route between their place of residence or work and the outside world. And surprisingly, considering just how many people lived in the City, the alleys never felt that busy, even during the morning or afternoon rush. Indeed, on the smaller side alleys and up the many stairways, you could go for quite long periods of time without meeting another soul. It was just another of the City’s many mysteries.