The pedestrian zone at Sai Yeung Choi Street South in Mong Kok will officially pass into history on August 4 as a termination notice, issued by the transport department, has been gazetted.
Since the pedestrian zone is only open to the public on weekends, on the evening of last Sunday, July 29, the final night of the zone, tens of thousands of local citizens and tourists packed the entire area to say goodbye to the performers and witness the end of the popular tourist attraction.
Initially intended back in 2000 as an experimental arrangement to improve the street environment for pedestrians and ensure their road safety through traffic diversions, the Mong Kok pedestrian zone soon became a hub for street performers from all walks of life as well as a popular cultural attraction for both locals and tourists.
But due to growing noise from the performers and the crowds, the initially well-intentioned policy initiative soon turned into a significant source of public nuisance and a major bone of contention in society.
In particular, occupants of residential apartment buildings along the street took the brunt of the nuisance over the past 18 years, prompting many of them to voice grievances about the noise pollution.
Due to mounting complaints about the “super heavyweight symphonies” played by the performers, authorities eventually had no choice but to shut down the pedestrian zone for good amid pressure from local residents as well as the Yau Tsim Mong District Council.
Now, the government may have ended the pedestrian zone, but it can never kill the burning passion of street performers to showcase their talents.
As a result, many of the performers have switched to either the Tsim Sha Tsui harbourfront or the pedestrian zone in Causeway Bay to continue with their shows. And there is a growing concern that these places are likely to become the “Sai Yeung Choi Street South 2.0” very soon.
To be fair, not all street performers are mere sources of noise; there are undoubtedly some very talented singers, musicians and performers among them.
Is it possible for the government to strike a reasonable balance between street performing arts and social order? For example, can the administration designate certain specific locations for street performers permanently so that the public can continue to enjoy free mass entertainment?
In fact in every major city around the world, there is almost without exception a thriving street performing culture. Street performers in these big cities co-exist with other road users and residents in the neighborhood harmoniously.
As an international city, Hong Kong should also allow street performances in a proper manner.
And the key to successfully preserving the city’s street performing culture is the word “proper”. So what exactly should we do in order to allow street performers to showcase their talents without causing any nuisance to the public?
Some people have suggested that the authorities consider allocating an open space for street performers at the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD), a suggestion that we also believe is feasible and deserves further study.
Nevertheless, apart from the WKCD, in our opinion, the government can also consider opening some of the areas in our existing public leisure facilities, such as large urban parks, to street performers, or anybody who just enjoys singing, dancing or playing instruments in public.
But of course, like we said, things must be done “properly” so as to guarantee public order and avoid causing nuisance to others.
Therefore, we suggest that a licensing system be introduced to street performers, under which people who are up to certain basic performance standards are allowed to sing, dance, play instruments, juggle, etc during specific hours in specific places.
The authorities, meanwhile, could remain vigilant against any illegal activities in these designated performing venues such as protection rackets by gangsters.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 31
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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