Sunday, 25 September 2016

Car-Free Day Hong Kong Style

Trams are still going by while booths occupy both sides of the roads
I was looking forward to checking out NGO Clean Air Network's event called "Very DVRC" or "Very Des Voeux Road Central", with the promises of removing cars from a 200-metre stretch of the busy thoroughfare from 10am to 4pm.

The idea came about 16 years ago from the Institute of Planners, who had suggested the entire area from Western Market to Pedder Street be completely car free. But in execution, Clean Air Network had to severely scale back and try it out with a small area, from Western Market to Wing On department store.

Some guys having a mini soccer match on a side street
I had visions of perhaps Occupy 2.0, large free spaces to roam around on the streets. However when I got there, people couldn't really walk on the roads because the middle of the street was occupied by trams that were still moving along the tracks, though at much lower speeds for safety reasons, and they were cordoned off.

The sides of the roads that vehicles would have used were occupied by booths, some 40 of them, ranging from making arts and crafts to fitness clubs, making mini Chinese flower banners, planters out of plastic bottles and even a mini soccer pitch.

There were musicians performing songs and one spot had colourful beanbags to sit on, and even a group that advocates giving hugs for 21 seconds.

I talked to a young enthusiastic woman called Winnie who said there was scientific research that said if people hug for 20 seconds then it helps release hormones to reduce stress. She also hoped the exercise would help people have more physical encounters rather than on social media. The extra second? Just to make sure your embrace definitely long enough.

The roads were carefully cordoned off for safety reasons
Former lawmaker Paul Zimmerman was also there and was pleased to see the event a reality and watched how people reacted to the carnival-like atmosphere. It's too bad he didn't get voted in, but he is someone who is always advocating for Hong Kong to be a more people-oriented city, to make it more accessible by walking rather than driving.

He feels that when a city is more walkable, people have more chances of bumping into people they know, and that in turn creates more dialogue and debate, and hopefully in the end makes people happier.

But there seems to be more cars on the road -- is it because there is a larger group of wealthier people who can afford them? Is it because public transport like the MTR are frustrating commuters so much that they don't have the patience to deal with it? Or is it because public transport doesn't adequately service the areas they live in?

Signs like this reminded people to watch for cars...
These questions need to be answered -- not with more roads, which is what the government likes to do. The current big infrastructure project is the Central to Wan Chai bypass that is taking years to build and will even cut into Victoria Park, something that the public didn't find out until it was too late to stop it.

Today's experiment was interesting, but perhaps it was too crowded a space, or the area wasn't quite right. Or maybe I'm just nostalgic about the occupation of Admiralty almost exactly two years ago when thousands of people converged on the bypass and created an ad hoc friendly community.

Are those days gone forever?

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