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Hong Kong's largest housing project is getting a new face

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Mistaken for a storage factory, Chungking Mansions has become a landmark simply for looking repulsive. But now the largest housing and commercial hub in the heart of Hong Kong’s tourist district – 17 stories occupying five connected blocks – is poised to receive a face-lift.

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A fixed population of 5,000 crams into small apartment and hostel rentals the size of large closets. Thousands of tradespeople, illegal workers, and asylum seekers from all corners of the world seek economic opportunity inside its many electronic shops. Now, Hong Kong-born David Cheung, the maintenance and cleaning-services manager, wants to give the structure a new face.

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That will cap years of improvements. As petty crime and drug trafficking rose in the 1990s, Mr. Cheung installed 300 cameras and a control center. With 90 percent of the elevators and hallways monitored 24 hours a day, safety has improved. Cheung hopes the new facade will reassure residents and tourists that it’s no longer a crime haven.