Hong Kong vehicle-free zone ends on sour note
After 18 years and a flood of noise complaints, the curtain is set to come down on entertainers in a pedestrian-only area where there was a failure to act responsibly
The decision to scrap the pedestrian zone on Sai Yeung Choi Street South is regrettable, but understandable. Aimed at boosting commerce, it became a magnet for buskers and other performers, making for a vibrant street culture in the heart of Mong Kok, Hong Kong’s most crowded district.
But removing vehicles permanently so people could move about freely and public entertainment take place was not as popular a choice as might be expected; what shoppers and visitors flocked to, local businesses and residents came to loathe.
After 18 years of experimentation, the scheme has been determined to be more of a nuisance than a benefit and the road will be given back to cars and trucks on a full-time basis.
Its failure can be put down to noise. Ridding Sai Yeung Choi Street South of vehicles was a popular decision with shoppers and that, in turn, brought street performers and sightseers.
Then came salespeople and entrepreneurs eager to profit from those wanting to sing in public and willing to pay for amplification equipment. Competition for space and a desire for attention by the amateur singers inevitably led to excessive crowds and volumes being raised, and the higher the levels, the louder the complaints.
The vehicle-free hours of the street were reduced three times between 2010 and 2013. Protests in 2015 against street performers who were too loud led to clashes between localists and pro-Beijing groups.
The following year, a crackdown by the government on unlicensed street hawkers on nearby Portland Street sparked the Mong Kok riot.
However, even the present street closure limit of weekends and public holidays until 10pm was too much for locals; the decision on Thursday by Yau Tsim Mong District Council to end the scheme was inevitable. The buskers and other amateur entertainers will have to find a new place to show their talents.
Street closures make for a better experience for shoppers and tourists. Poor regulation and enforcement are to blame for the demise of the pedestrian zone at Sai Yeung Choi Street South.
There are others in Hong Kong, most notably in Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui. They are designated for public enjoyment; only by acting responsibly can people who use them truly benefit.