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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

Comparing Luxury Investment Around the World

From artwork to rare whiskeys, see which categories of luxury investment were the most popular in 2020 across nine global regions.

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Comparing Luxury Investment Around the World

Do you enjoy the finer things in life? For many of the world’s wealthy individuals, acquiring luxury goods such as art, fine wine, and watches is a passion.

Unlike traditional investments in financial assets, luxury goods can be difficult to value if one does not have an appreciation for their form. A rare painting, for example, does not generate cash flows, meaning its value is truly in the eye of the beholder.

To gain some insight into the market for luxury goods, this infographic takes data from Knight Frank’s 2021 Wealth Report to compare the preferences of nine global regions.

Global Tastes in Luxury Goods

To rank the most popular luxury investments in 2020, Knight Frank surveyed over 600 private bankers, wealth advisors, and family offices. The following table summarizes their findings, as well as each category’s growth according to the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index.

Global Average RankingCategory10-year growth in asset values (%)
1Art71%
2Classic cars193%
3Watches89%
4Wine127%
5Jewelry67%
6Rare whiskey478%
7Furniture22%
8Colored diamonds39%
9Coins72%
10Handbags108%

Art was unmistakably the top category for 2020, ranking first in every geographic region except Africa and Asia, where it placed second instead. The global market for artwork was estimated to be worth $64 billion in 2019, and is often facilitated through auction houses such as Sotheby’s.

In terms of asset appreciation, rare whiskeys have climbed the most in value over the past 10 years. Connoisseurs of this spirit will be familiar with distilleries like The Macallan, whose rare bottles can sell for more than a million dollars.

Comparing Luxury Investment Between North America and Asia

Below, we’ve compared the rankings of Asia and North America to get a better idea of how preferences can vary.

The biggest differences here are watches, which ranked first in Asia but fourth in North America, and classic cars, which ranked second in North America but fifth in Asia. The remaining eight categories took similar spots across the two regions.

RankAsia PopularityNorth America Popularity
1WatchesArt
2ArtClassic cars
3JewelryWine
4WineWatches
5Classic carsJewelry
6Rare whiskeyRare whiskey
7HandbagsFurniture
8FurnitureHandbags
9Colored diamondsCoins (tied for 8th place)
10CoinsColored diamonds

Asia’s stronger preference for watches was likely driven by Chinese consumers, who are now the biggest buyers of luxury watches globally. Demand throughout the COVID-19 pandemic proved resilient, with exports of Swiss watches to China increasing by 17.1% between January and November 2020.

Classic cars, on the other hand, may be more popular in North America due to the region’s longer automotive history. Two of America’s most iconic automakers, Ford and General Motors, have both been around for over a century!

The Biggest Sales of 2020

Here were some of the most extravagant and noteworthy luxury sales from 2020.

Art

Francis Bacon’s 1981 Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus was sold by Sotheby’s for $84.6 million in June 2020. A triptych is an artwork that is divided into three sections but displayed as a single piece.

Other paintings by Francis Bacon have sold for even larger amounts. In 2013, Three Studies of Lucian Freud was sold by Christie’s auction house for $142 million.

Classic Cars

A 1932 Bugatti Type 55 Super Sport Roadster sold for $7.1 million in March 2020, making it one of the biggest classic car sales of the year.

Founded in 1909, Bugatti has produced some of the world’s most sought-after cars. The French brand was acquired by the Volkswagen Group in 1998, and since then, has released numerous special edition cars with price tags reaching well into the millions.

Handbags

An Hermès Himalaya Niloticus Crocodile Retourné Kelly 25 sold for $437,330 in November 2020, becoming the most expensive handbag ever sold at an auction. Founded in 1837, Hermès is commonly regarded as one of the world’s most prestigious makers of handbags.

COVID-19 Dampens Luxury Investment

When compared to 2019, total sales for Sotheby’s declined 16% in 2020, while Christie’s, another leading auction house, reported a 25% decline. Despite these decreases, executives remain optimistic.

“The art and luxury markets have proven to be incredibly resilient, and demand for quality across categories is unabated.”
– Charles Stewart, CEO, Sotheby’s

The industry has been largely successful in transitioning to online operations, with Sotheby’s reporting that 70% of its auctions in 2020 were held online, up from 30% in the previous year.

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Technology

Which Streaming Service Has the Most Subscriptions?

From Netflix and Disney+ to Spotify and Apple Music, we rank the streaming services with the most monthly paid subscriptions.

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Streaming Service Subscriptions 2020 - Share

Which Streaming Service Has The Most Subscriptions?

Many companies have launched a streaming service over the past few years, trying to capitalize on the digital media shift and launching the so-called “streaming wars.”

After Netflix grew from a small DVD-rental company to a household name, every media company from Disney to Apple saw recurring revenues ripe for the taking. Likewise, the audio industry has long-since accepted Spotify’s rise to prominence, as streaming has become the de facto method of consumption for many.

But it was actually the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic that solidified the foothold of digital streaming, with subscription services seeing massive growth over the last year. Although it was expected that many new services would flounder along the way, media subscription services saw wide scale growth and adoption almost across the board.

We’ve taken the video, audio, and news subscription services with 5+ million subscribers to see who came out on top—and who has grown the most quickly—over the past year. Data comes from the FIPP media association as well as individual company reports.

Streaming Service Giants: Netflix and Amazon

The top of the streaming giant pantheon highlights two staples of business: the first-mover advantage and the power of conglomeration.

With 200+ million global subscribers, Netflix has capitalized on its position as the first and primary name in digital video streaming. Though its consumer base in the Americas has begun to plateau, the company’s growth in reach (190+ countries) and content (70+ original movies slated for 2021) has put it more than 50 million subscribers ahead of its closest competition.

The story is the same in the audio market, where Spotify’s 144 million subscriber base is more than double that of Apple Music, the next closest competitor with 68 million subscribers.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s position as the second most popular video streaming service with 150 million subscribers might be surprising. However, Prime Video subscriptions are included with membership to Amazon Prime, which saw massive growth in usage during the pandemic.

ServiceTypeSubscribers (Q4 2020)
NetflixVideo203.7M
Amazon Prime VideoVideo150.0M
SpotifyAudio144.0M
Tencent VideoVideo120.0M
iQIYIVideo119.0M
Disney+Video94.9M
YoukuVideo90.0M
Apple MusicAudio68.0M
Amazon Prime MusicAudio55.0M
Tencent Music (Group)Audio51.7M
ViuVideo41.4M
Alt BalajiVideo40M
HuluVideo38.8M
Eros NowVideo36.2M
Sirius XmAudio34.4M
YouTube PremiumVideo/Audio30M
Disney+ HotstarVideo18.5M
Paramount+Video17.9M
HBO MaxVideo17.2M
Starz/StarzPlay/PantayaVideo13.7M
ESPN+Video11.5M
Apple TV+Video10M
DAZNVideo8M
DeezerAudio7M
PandoraAudio6.3M
New York TimesNews6.1M

Another standout is the number of large streaming services based in Asia. China-based Tencent Video (also known as WeTV) and Baidu’s iQIYI streaming services both crossed 100 million paid subscribers, with Alibaba’s Youku not far behind with 90 million.

Disney Leads in Streaming Growth

But perhaps most notable of all is Disney’s rapid ascension to the upper echelons of streaming service giants.

Despite Disney+ launching in late 2019 with a somewhat lackluster content library (only one original series with one episode at launch), it has quickly rocketed both in terms of content and its subscriber base. With almost 95 million subscribers, it has amassed more subscribers in just over one year than Disney expected it could reach by 2024.

ServiceTypePercentage Growth (2019)
Disney+VideoNew
Apple TV+VideoNew
Disney+ HotstarVideo516.7%
ESPN+Video475.0%
Starz/StarzPlay/PantayaVideo211.4%
Paramount+Video123.8%
HBO MaxVideo115.0%
Amazon Prime VideoVideo100.0%
Alt BalajiVideo100.0%
YouTube PremiumVideo/Audio100.0%
DAZNVideo100.0%
Eros NowVideo92.6%
Amazon Prime MusicAudio71.9%
Tencent Music (Group)Audio66.8%
New York TimesNews60.5%
SpotifyAudio44.0%
HuluVideo38.6%
ViuVideo38.0%
NetflixVideo34.4%
Tencent VideoVideo27.7%
iQiyiVideo19.0%
Sirius XmAudio17.4%
Apple MusicAudio13.3%
YoukuVideo9.6%
PandoraAudio1.6%
DeezerAudio0%

The Disney+ wave also spurred growth in partner streaming services like Hotstar and ESPN+, while other services with smaller subscriber bases saw large growth rates thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lingering question is how the landscape will look when the pandemic starts to wind down, and when all the new players are accounted for. NBCUniversal’s Peacock, for example, has reached over 30 million subscribers as of January 2021, but the company hasn’t yet disclosed how many are paid subscribers.

Likewise, competitors are investing in content libraries to try and make up ground on Netflix and Disney. HBO Max is slated to start launching internationally in June 2021, and ViacomCBS rebranded and expanded CBS All Access into Paramount+.

And international growth is vital. Three of the top six video streaming services by subscribers are based in China, while Indian services Hotstar, ALTBalaji, and Eros Now all saw surges in subscriber bases, with more room left to grow.

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