One of the world’s busiest districts has silenced its street performers

Carrying on… elsewhere.
Carrying on… elsewhere.
Image: EPA-EFE/Jerome Favre
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For nearly two decades, one district has had a front-row seat to Hong Kong’s vibrant street culture, where on any given night, people could find buskers singing Cantonese opera and Cantopop, yogis performing acrobatic tricks, and Michael Jackson lookalikes busting a move. But that ended this weekend (July 29), as authorities have shut down a popular pedestrian thoroughfare in Mong Kok, one of the world’s densest neighborhoods.

Hong Kong’s Sai Yeung Choi Street South became part of a car-free zone in Mong Kok in 2000. At its peak, the street’s four-block area was handling up to 20,000 pedestrians an hour, making it a paradise for street entertainers. But countless competing acts—and with them microphones and speakers—also brought complaints of noise disturbances, with decibels sometimes reaching as high as 100, almost on par with a rock concert.

Authorities had shortened the hours for when the zone would be car-free several times throughout the years, but neighbors’ grievances continued to rack up, with residents and shopkeepers submitting more than 1,200 complaints in 2017 alone. In May, the local district council passed a bill to scrap the pedestrian zone, a move nearly all neighbors and shop owners supported, according to a survey by Hong Kong’s transport department in July.

The department said the pedestrian flow is now between 10,700 and 14,800 an hour during weekend peak hours, a 24% decrease from 2014. When the road is reopened to traffic full time, it will be able to cope with the current pedestrian flow, it added.

As the shutdown loomed, some seized one last chance to perform on Sai Yeung Choi Street. The actor Bobby Yip, for example, was seen on Saturday in his signature bowl-cut hairstyle singing a song (link in Chinese) for onlookers. The busking zone is like “a nightclub for ordinary people,” he said, adding he hoped the government would continue to support the city’s street culture.

While many lamented the loss of their little corner of Hong Kong, some performers are already planning to take their acts to other busy shopping districts like Tsim Sha Tsui and Causeway Bay.