Urban planning

Restraint, self-discipline and regulation key to street performance

The pedestrian zone in Mong Kok turned into a free-for-all, leaving the authorities little choice but to shut it down

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2018, 7:48pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2018, 10:19pm

There was nostalgia, even sadness, when the music that once filled the Mong Kok pedestrian zone for nearly two decades was finally unplugged by the authorities on Sunday. But to many who had to put up with the noise and nuisance caused by irresponsible street performers over the years, the return of Sai Yeung Choi Street South to vehicular traffic is a relief that has been long overdue. Given this unique street performance culture has taken root and is spilling over to other districts, it would do well for the performers to act responsibly, or government regulation will have to follow.

The shutdown in Mong Kok had much to do with abuse of the zone and the lack of law enforcement. Established 18 years ago to make the area more enjoyable to pedestrians, the 500-metre pedestrian zone was a welcome move to improve public space. But it soon became a magnet for buskers, salespersons and amateurish performers. The situation was further compounded by the alleged involvement of illegitimate groups controlling the use of space.

Mong Kok buskers say thank you and good night

The zone was never intended for street performance. But the authorities do not seem to have taken any action over the years as the area turned into Hong Kong’s de facto busking hotspot such as London’s Covent Garden or Montmartre in Paris. Whether the quality of the entertainment was any match to those found overseas is another matter. Some in the Mong Kok zone were merely citizens enjoying themselves singing and dancing in public. There are those who lament the closure as a loss of collective memory. But that, of course, is open to debate given the numerous complaints about noise.

What is certain, though, is that the closure will not address the fundamental issue. Like it or not, the scheme has already nurtured our own street performance culture. Meanwhile, a government pilot scheme in Sha Tin has proved to be unattractive, apparently because of the red tape involved. It seems that the performers resist regulation and are moving to the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront and Causeway Bay, a trend worthy of the government’s attention.

Unless there is restraint and self-discipline, the authorities cannot sit back and do nothing.