The Yau Tsim Mong District Council recently passed a resolution calling on the government to scrap the pedestrian zone at the Sai Yeung Choi Street South in Mong Kok.
Back in 2000, the Transport Department tabled a document to Legco proposing to establish pedestrian zones in Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui on the grounds that both pedestrian and traffic flows in these districts were extremely high.
By designating parts of the main roads in these areas as pedestrian zones, the Transport Department hoped that it could improve the urban environment for pedestrians and alleviate air pollution through traffic diversion measures.
At that time public response to the proposal was largely positive.
Ironically, perhaps only very few people, if not totally none, among those who supported the idea 18 years ago were able to foresee that this well-intentioned proposal would one day turn into a significant source of public nuisance and a major bone of contention in society.
For the recent district council meeting, the government only sent engineers from the Transport Department but none from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.
While the pedestrian zone, particularly the one in Mong Kok, has become a hub for street performers as well as a popular cultural attraction for both locals and tourists over the years, it appears the government still regards it as purely a transport issue, when in fact it is far beyond that.
Simply put, while the Mong Kok pedestrian zone has taken on a life of its own and become a mass entertainment hotspot over the years, the government has completely lost touch with its changing nature.
As a result, authorities have been unable to grasp the full extent of the problems presented by street performers, let alone regulate and manage them.
To be quite frank, scrapping the Mong Kok pedestrian zone would only at best provide a quick fix; the government hasn’t got to the root of the problem of vehicle-pedestrian conflict in our city downtown.
As the vehicle population and local pedestrians and tourist numbers continue to grow, the problem is likely to worsen in the days ahead even if all the pedestrian zones are shut down.
Still, residents and shopkeepers along the Sai Yeung Choi Street South would perhaps very much welcome the closure of the pedestrian zone.
And the police, who are at their wits’ end about street performers and the public complaints against them, would also probably love to see the shutdown of the pedestrian zone.
Some pan-democratic lawmakers and community groups have suggested that the government introduce a licensing system for street performers and set parameters for their performances so as to minimize their nuisance to residents in the neighborhood.
However, I don’t think it is going to work, because I guess no street performer or musician would be willing to take the trouble to apply for a “Playing Musical Instrument Permit in Public Street or Road” from the police according to the current law.
Nor would the suggestion of setting up another official mechanism to regulate street performers be likely to work either, given its potential for stirring up political controversies and our notorious bureaucratic red tape.
That being said, it appears closing down the Mong Kok pedestrian zone is the only option on the table.
Nevertheless, the problem is, the government may be able to kill the Mong Kok pedestrian zone, but it can hardly kill the passion of street performers and musicians to showcase their talents in public.
As such, I believe the only thing a shutdown of the Mong Kok pedestrian zone would do is drive the street performers to other districts, thereby spreading the problem of noise nuisance across the city.
In other words, no matter whether the government is going to change or strictly enforce the law over street performers, it would have to come up with a new solution to address this public issue.
Suffice it to say that scrapping the Mong Kok pedestrian zone would only be the first step to resolve the issue presented by street performers, rather than the final solution.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 26
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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