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This Fascinating City Within Hong Kong Was Lawless For Decades

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Kowloon Walled City

This Fascinating City Within Hong Kong was Lawless For Decades

There are very few places on Earth that remain ungoverned, and even the tiniest islands and city-states tend to have rules in place for things like taxation and citizenship.

Government control is an established reality for most of the world, but what would happen if a neighborhood in your city suddenly became a lawless free-for-all? What type of industries would emerge, and how would people cooperate within that environment to ensure basic services continued to operate?

One example from recent history sheds light on just how such a situation could work: Kowloon Walled City.

Kowloon Walled City

Today’s infographic is a fantastic editorial illustration from South China Morning Post from 2013 that takes a detailed look at the inner workings of Kowloon Walled City (KWC).

Often described as one of the most remarkable social anomalies in recent history, this bizarre enclave was more dense than any other urban area on the face of the planet.

Kowloon Walled City Timeline

The story of the KWC site begins in the Song Dynasty (960-1297) when a small fort was constructed to house soldiers who helped safeguard the salt trade. In the latter half of the 19th century, the small fort was expanded into a full garrison town as the threat of a British invasion hung over China.

In 1898, the 99-year lease of Kowloon and the New Territories was established with one exception: the 2.7 hectare walled fortress. Because China never dropped its claim on the site and the British took a hands-off approach, the site became a sort of lawless enclave.

After WWII, squatters began to fill the site and more permanent structures followed. By 1950, the population had grown to 17,000, and by 1990 over 50,000 people lived within a property the size of two rugby fields.

kowloon walled city density people

From Squatter Camps to Functioning Neighborhood

There was a tendency to view KWC is an isolated bubble of vice within the city, but the sheer volume of business activity within the informal settlement shows that outside customers were more than happy to benefit from lower priced goods and services. This symbiosis has few parallels in modern history, and it makes KWC a fascinating situation to look back on.

KWC is best known as an enclave of criminal activity and illicit businesses such as brothels and gambling dens, but that only tells one side of the story. Despite the lack of space and formal links to utilities, the neighborhood was remarkably productive. In fact, KWC was often been described as Hong Kong’s shadow economy because the hundreds of tiny workshops and factories scattered throughout the site provided products for businesses across Hong Kong.

Kowloon Walled City Businesses

People moved to KWC for many reasons, including bankruptcy, poverty, or to avoid deportation. Others went there to take advantage of the lack of law enforcement and regulations.

One prominent example of skirting regulation was the high concentration of dental and medical practitioners operating within KWC. In addition to lower rents, doctors who immigrated to Hong Kong from China could avoid expensive licensing and retraining required by the colonial government. Industrial businesses were free to ignore fire, labor, and safety codes to produce goods at a lower cost, or to sell items that were considered taboo in the formal economy (e.g. restaurants serving dog meat).

Law and Order

Triads acted as a de facto city council by resolving civil conflicts, creating a volunteer fire brigade, and organizing garbage disposal. The tight-knit community within the settlement would also coordinate among themselves to conserve electricity and make repairs to shared infrastructure.

Despite the lack of formally recognized land ownership, people still bought and sold property within KWC. In one example, a construction company struck an exchange deal with the owner of a four-story building. The owner would retain a ground floor flat in a newly constructed thirteen-story building on the site.

The Bitter End

In 1993, after intense rounds of buy-out offers and forced relocations, Kowloon Walled City was demolished and converted into a park. Many of the businesses were forced to close forever as rents in the rest of Hong Kong were not affordable for most of the owners.

All this intensity of random human effort and activity, vice and sloth and industry, exempted from all the controls we take for granted, resulted in an environment as richly varied and as sensual as anything in the heart of the tropical rainforest. The only drawback is that it was obviously toxic.

– Greg Girard, author of City of Darkness

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Misc

How Many Music Streams Does it Take to Earn a Dollar?

Streaming has breathed new life into the music business, but as new data shows, these services pay out wildly different rates per stream.

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How Many Music Streams Does it Take to Earn a Dollar?

A decade ago, the music industry was headed for a protracted fade-out.

The disruptive effects of peer-to-peer file sharing had slashed music revenues in half, casting serious doubts over the future of the industry.

Ringtones provided a brief earnings bump, but it was the growing popularity of premium streaming services that proved to be the savior of record labels and artists. For the first time since the mid-90s, the music industry saw back-to-back years of growth, and revenues grew a brisk 12% in 2018 – nearly reaching $10 billion. In short, people showed they were still willing to pay for music.

Although most forecasts show streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music contributing an increasingly large share of revenue going forward, recent data from The Trichordist reveals that these services pay out wildly different rates per stream.

Note: Due to the lack of publicly available data, calculating payouts from streaming services is not an exact science. This data set is based on revenue from an indie label with a ~150 album catalogue generating over 115 million streams.

Full Stream Ahead

One would expect streaming services to have fairly similar payout rates every time a track is played, but this is not the case. In reality, the streaming rates of major players in the market – which have very similar catalogs – are all over the map. Below is a full breakdown of how many streams it takes to earn a dollar on various platforms:

Streaming serviceAvg. payout per stream# of streams to earn one dollar# of streams to earn minimum wage*
Napster$0.0195377,474
Tidal$0.012580117,760
Apple Music$0.00735136200,272
Google Play Music$0.00676147217,751
Deezer$0.0064156230,000
Spotify$0.00437229336,842
Amazon$0.00402249366,169
Pandora**$0.001337521,106,767
YouTube$0.000691,4492,133,333

*U.S. monthly minimum wage of $1,472 **Premium tier

Napster, once public enemy number one in the music business, has some of the most generous streaming rates in the industry. On the downside, the brand currently has a market share of less than 1%, so getting a high volume of plays on an album isn’t likely to happen for most artists.

On the flip side of the equation, YouTube has the highest number of plays per song, but the lowest payout per stream by far. It takes almost 1,500 plays to earn a single dollar on the Google-owned video platform.

Spotify, which is now the biggest player in the streaming market, is on the mid-to-low end of the compensation spectrum.

The Payment Pipeline

How do companies like Spotify calculate the amount paid out to license holders? Here’s a look at their payout process:

artist spotify streaming payouts

As this chart reveals, dollars earned from streaming still don’t tell the full story of how much artists receive at the end of the line. This amount is influenced by whether or not the performer has a record deal, and if other contributors have a stake in the recorded work.

The Pressure is Heating Up

When Spotify was a scrappy startup providing a much needed revenue stream to the music industry, labels were temporarily willing to accept lower streaming rates.

But now that Spotify is a public company, and tech giants like Apple and Amazon are in the picture, a growing chorus of industry players will likely dial up the pressure to increase compensation rates.

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Misc

The Global Fiber Optic Network Explained

An informative look at the global fiber optic network, how the cables actually work, and the technology that will power the 6G network.

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The Global Fiber Optic Network Explained

As we scroll through Instagram or cue up another episode on Netflix, most of us give little thought to the hidden network of fiber optic cables that instantaneously shuttle information around the globe.

This extensive network of cables – which could stretch around the Equator 30 times – is the connective tissue that binds the internet, and thanks to our insatiable appetite for video streaming, it’s growing larger with every passing year.

Today’s video, by TED-Ed, explains how fiber optic cables work and introduces the next generation of cables that could drastically increase the speed of data transmission.

A Series of Tubes

The late Senator Ted Stevens drew laughter for describing the internet as a “series of tubes” in 2006, but as it turns out, most of the information moving around the world does, in fact, travel through a series of tubes. Undersea fiber optic tubes, to be exact.

The way this system functions is deceptively simple. Light, which is beamed into a fiber optic cable at a shallow angle, ricochets its way along the tube at close to light speed until being converted back into an electrical signal at its destination – generally a data center. To increase bandwidth further, some cables are able to carry multiple wavelengths concurrently.

Impressively, this simple method of bouncing light through a tube is what moves 99% of the world’s digital information.

The Glass Superhighway

Since the first undersea fiber optic cable, TAT-8, was constructed by a consortium of companies in 1988, the number of cables snaking across the ocean floor has risen dramatically. In fact, over 100 new cables will have been laid between 2016 and 2020, with a value of nearly $14 billion.

global fiber optic subsea cable projects

Increasing bandwidth requirements have transformed content providers from customers to cable owners. As a result, tech giants like Google and Facebook are taking a more active role in the expansion of the global fiber optic network. Google alone has at least five cable projects set for completion in 2019.

The Last Mile

Much like Amazon struggles with the “last mile” of deliveries, the transmission of digital information is much less efficient at the data center level, where servers are connected by traditional electric cables. These short-range cables are far less efficient than their fiber optic counterparts, losing half their running power as heat.

If this inefficient use of energy isn’t solved, internet-related activity could comprise a fifth of the world’s power consumption by 2030.

Thankfully, a related technology – integrated photonics – could keep the high-definition videos of the future streaming. Although the silicon wires used in integrated photonics do not guide light as effectively as fiber optics, the ultra-thin wires are far more compact. Photonic chips paired with burgeoning terahertz (THz) wireless communications could eventually form the backbone of a 6G network. Short-range THz signals would hitch a ride on silicon wires via tiny photonic chips scattered around population centers.

Before this efficient, high-capacity future is realized, researchers must first solve the puzzle of manufacturing photonic devices at scale. Once this method of data transmission hits the mainstream market, it could drastically alter the course of both computing and global energy consumption.

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