Crammed into 25 hectares of northwest Kowloon are squat concrete housing blocks that march in regimented series over the flattened plain. Grim, dreary, uninspiring and drab, Shekkipmei estate with its ugly H-shaped blocks hardly looks like the answer to anyone's dream. Yet a half century ago, the opportunity to move into a cramped concrete box without toilet, water or privacy was the ambition of half the population. Many people today look at Shekkipmei and feel embarrassment and shame. I view the crumbling slabs with awe, respect and a sense of achievement. The humble estate is one of our proudest monuments. For this is where our phenomenal public housing programme began. It is now coming to an end. All but one block will be demolished. Last week, I strolled through the blocks awaiting the bulldozers. There's a jaunty spirit of survival among residents, a thriving community feeling. People have lived there so long that everyone knows everyone else. The main topic last week, shouted across the open balconies and asked at sitting-out areas where the octogenarians gather to gossip was simple: Now that the government plans to knock down the estate, what are we going to do? Chances are, the old folk will not have to move far. Six modern towers with 4,000 public rental flats will rise there, providing accommodation vastly superior to what they now enjoy. And yet, many of the old men and women who have spent most of their lives in the most humble of public housing face the future with regrets. The population is dwindling. In 1988, 30,270 people lived in Shekkipmei. Many were families with three generations crammed into a single tiny flat. Now, there are 11,554 residents, a majority of them elderly and occupying double rooms turned into larger flats. Some people look at Shekkipmei with a mixture of shame and disgust. To the residents, it is home, with a community warmth and affection missing in places where residents are blessed with money, status and power. It took long, hard years to build this communal affinity. On Christmas Day 1953, tens of thousands of people existed in conditions infinitely worse than those seen today in Shekkipmei, or anywhere else in Hong Kong. They were squatters, people who had fled the mainland, the poor, the miserable, the unwanted. Their festering huts covered every inch of land, flimsy, filthy and dangerous. That Christmas Day, fire swept through Shekkipmei, leaving 50,000 homeless. Stunned, the colonial government acted. Up went rude temporary shelters. Then the concrete H-shaped blocks rose. For the homeless these were more than a haven, they were heaven. Now they are going. One H-block will remain. Block 41 is going to be kept as a housing museum. A couple of years ago, there were going to be two blocks retained for historical purposes; alas, this has been pruned. Even now the Housing Authority seems indecisive and undecided about its own intentions; a spokesman says they have to take public opinion into account, talk to district councillors and consider the overall planning. What's wrong with these people? The museum proposal was made years ago, was greeted with enthusiasm by local residents, academics and architects. It now seems to be in doubt. Why? A museum of housing would be a fascinating addition to our portfolio of cultural and educational assets. The grandchildren of those who lived in Shekkipmei have only hazy ideas of the harsh times and dreadful conditions. It would be educational and beneficial for teachers and accountants, for instance, to see how their grandparents coped. The units were 120 sq ft of bare concrete. Cooking was done on the balcony. There were communal toilets and water came from a standpipe seven floors below the top level. There were no lifts. In the most desperate years, two families with 16 people might, incredibly, cram atop one another in one room. Much of daily life was lived on the balconies, where harassed mothers and grandmothers cooked, washed, brought up babies and in spare hours toiled making plastic flowers and other minor home industry products that helped boost the manufacturing miracle of the 1960s. A museum portraying starkly and factually the marvel that was Shekkipmei would be a tribute to the men and women who survived our darkest hours and who pressed on with grit, determination and a wry grin to build the modern Hong Kong.