Silence not golden in Mong Kok swansong

Editorial | Mary Ma 30 Jul 2018

Good things never last; bad things never end. This saying sums up the feeling hanging over the Mong Kok pedestrian zone as the final curtain fell on it last night after 18 years.

Stretched over four blocks of Sai Yeung Choi Street South, it was the launch-pad for a variety of entertainers - from singers, dancers, magicians and acrobats to statues of living flesh. They ranged from the talented to the unspeakably horrible. Still, all had their share of fans and admirers. It was a place where freedom reigned.

But like most other activities, there are limits. When we don't know those limits or - in this case - totally ignore them, we pay a price. Yesterday those performers, the good, the bad and the ugly, paid the price. Banned. Forever? Maybe.

What's certain is the road is given back to the pedestrians, drivers, cyclists and motorcyclists. Those living directly above the road are obviously highly relieved.

Unfortunately, most of the buskers were too noisy. And that's an understatement. The performers tried to drown each other out. Their amplifiers hit 100 decibels - far exceeding the World Health Organization's recommended limit of 85 decibels for prolonged exposure.

Residents, retailers and shoppers would have had to be totally deaf to tolerate this musical abomination. They filed complaint after complaint. In the end, the district council voted to shut it down. The government quickly followed up by announcing the zone's reopening to vehicles on August 4.

All good things do come to an end, and usually with sadness. But not this one.

Nevertheless, it wasn't meant to end this way either.

Back in 2000, the Transport Department tabled a proposal with the Legislative Council for pedestrian zones to be set up in Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui to lower both pedestrian and traffic flows, extremely high at the time.

Public response at that time was largely positive. Few could foresee that 18 years later, this well-intentioned proposal would turn into a public noise nuisance.

Scrapping the pedestrian zone in Mong Kok is by no means a bad thing, especially for residents and shopkeepers who feel they have nothing to lose apart from the noise.

But let's face it, pedestrian zones - particularly Mong Kok's - have become enduring cultural centers for both locals and tourists.

However, it appears the government doesn't see any cultural value in it, viewing Sai Yeung Choi Street as a transport issue instead.

Sadly, there is cultural value in it, a helluva lot to boot.

The administration is losing touch with the changing nature of our society, and not just with street performers.

To put it more bluntly, the government has totally lost touch with the changing nature of our city. As a result, it has been unable to deal with the problems presented by street performers, not to mention regulating or managing them.

Frankly speaking, the vote to scrap the pedestrian zone at best provided the government with a quick way to fix the issue. But it doesn't properly address the root of the problem, both in terms of street performers, or vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

Mark my words - scrapping a street dedicated to buskers hasn't solved anything.

The buskers will still be around, and their numbers will grow. And they will spread, becoming a general nuisance for all. So, the government has to delve deeper into the problem and find a solution for these performers.

Perhaps the West Kowloon Cultural District is the answer.

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