Street Performance and Open Space: Balancing Public Needs
by Carine Lai, senior researcher of Civic Exchange and Ximin Zhou researcher of Civic Exchange
How do we in Hong Kong reconcile the widening gap between a culturally rich urban life, and a fair, pleasant, and unobtrusive use of public space?
Civic Exchange is spearheading research to devise much needed policy recommendations to legitimize street performers and foster the balance between vibrancy and conviviality.
While busking is not illegal in Hong Kong and has the potential to enrich the cultural diversity and vibrancy of urban city life, local communities increasingly perceive buskers as a nuisance and obstruction.
We need a dedicated and effective street performance management system, rather than expecting street performers to comply with relevant public laws and ordinances which are not well communicated in the first place.
The waning public tolerance and shrinking available public space manifested themselves in the 2018 closure of the Mong Kok Pedestrian Precinct and the 2020 permanent ban of buskers from Time Square mall premises.
Expanding on Civic Exchange’s previous street management study “Managing Vibrant Street” (Lai and Da Roza, 2018), this latest work makes policy recommendations based on a series of engagements with stakeholders. They include reviewing existing measures and identifying areas of improvement, while taking into consideration the diverging needs and concerns of stakeholders regarding street management issues.
Several key points of concern have been identified so far:
- Street performers suffer from stigmatization and are often perceived as a disturbance or are misrepresented as beggars.
- The absence of an effective management system has created grey areas where arbitrary enforcement occurs.
- Government-led initiatives remain piecemeal and suffer from low engagement and acceptance from audiences and street performers alike.
- There is a lack of an orchestrated effort to communicate laws and regulations, and to promote the social and cultural value of street performances on the wider public community
Civic Exchange’s research, led by Carine Lai and Ximin Zhou, builds on an in-depth understanding of the relationships between key stakeholders to outline the roles in which stakeholders from the public sector, private sector and civil society can help resolve the existing issues relative to street performance in a systematic manner.
The research looks closely at the existing dynamics between stakeholders through CLIP analysis that assesses the existing conflicts and collaborations (C) between participant stakeholders and their respective levels of legitimacy (L), interests (I) and power (P). Results of the analysis provides the basis for the roles that each stakeholder can play.
A wide range of stakeholders are participating in the study. They are government representatives, district councillors, business representatives, neighbourhood concern groups, non-profit organisations, artist concern groups and street performers themselves.
Thus far, the two main options – liberal or restrictive approach to street performance management – are identified. For a substantial systemic change, either of the approaches would require orchestrated joint efforts through external cross-sectoral partnerships and inter-departmental collaborations within the government. Civic Exchange will continue to engage with stakeholders to assess the practicality and feasibility of each options before deciding on which approach to recommend.
Meanwhile, bearing in the long term goal of effecting systemic change, recommendations also look at short term initiatives such as pilot programs to strengthen public education and deepen communities’ appreciation of the cultural and social benefits of street performance.
The prescriptive role of public open spaces in Hong Kong are being reconsidered. Urban planners and policymakers increasingly recognize the importance of reshaping public space to meet the needs of local communities. Street performers can play a pivotal role in enhancing the cultural life of public space as a part of placemaking strategy.
In order to build a sustainable urban environment, Civic Exchange aims to establish a consensus on how street performance should be (re-)integrated into public open spaces – balancing the needs of street performers with other public space users.