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Pedestrian streets should be lined with art, cultural performances: Singaporean expat

Friday, January 06, 2017, 18:14 GMT+7

Singaporean Aidan Wee, who has worked in real estate in Ho Chi Minh City since 2008, told Tuoi Tre News that a pedestrian street should be a place lined with performers and local cultural features.

His comments come in the wake of discussions on how to improve pedestrian streets in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, especially in terms of musical and artistic performances.

Following Orchard Road, why not?

I have walked Nguyen Hue Pedestrian Street countless times to visit the coffee shops there. On the street itself, buskers and street hawkers are a common sight in the evenings once the sun goes down.

The pedestrian street around Hoan Kiem Lake is slightly more attractive in my opinion as its backdrop is set against a romantic lake that provides for a different feel in different months of the year. Visitors can also enjoy singing and dancing performances put on by buskers along the pedestrian street.

Over the weekends, both sets of pedestrian streets are closed off to vehicles to allow an unhampered flow of foot traffic to and from the boulevard/lake and the shops on the outside of the roads. This is also done to ensure the safety of a large increase in the number of visitors at weekends.

I agree with the opinion that a pedestrian street should be a place for artistic performances. I feel that local cultural features infused into performances make the pedestrian streets a uniquely Vietnamese experience. To put Vietnam on the cultural world map, it is important to expose international visitors to the traditional performance arts of the country such as ‘dan bau’ (traditional Vietnamese one-string musical instrument) and ‘cai luong’ (southern Vietnamese songs and plays), but it should be balanced with modern performances to also broadcast to the world the rich talent that local Vietnamese have. The younger generation of Vietnamese with western influence is as talented in the performance arts as the older generation. The pedestrian streets are a conduit and platform to provide space for such talents to shine, promoting cultural exchange and allowing ideas in this field to develop.

Many years ago, when I was still in secondary school, I did a research project titled “Rejuvenating Orchard Road.” I envisioned an area that seamlessly integrated the shopping malls with street level pedestrian zones to create an environment full of activities and shops. From al fresco dining overlooking the pedestrian streets, providing food and beverage establishments where people can see others and be seen by others, to buskers providing performances along the streets to entertain the shoppers. Orchard Road would be transformed from a shopping belt to an entertainment hub. It seems that someone with decision making authority had the same idea.

As we all know, Orchard Road is the main shopping belt in Singapore, with super-sized shopping malls lined with pedestrian streets in front of the malls and separated in the middle by vehicular roads. The Orchard Road of today allows the seamless flow of foot traffic between the malls and provides access to buskers and performers along the walkways linking the malls at street level. This has helped breath more life into the streets and promote the economy of Singapore by encouraging connectivity for visitors to walk, shop and enjoy a holistic experience with performance thrown in. Crowds of people are attracted to Orchard Road to be entertained, not just to shop.

This in my opinion is how a pedestrian street should be like. Orchard Road in Singapore has provided a great model for the streets around Nguyen Hue Pedestrian Street and Hoan Kiem Lake to follow.

Critical management

A process to manage performers is critical, as the pedestrian streets are also tourist attractions and located in the downtown heart of the cities where there are a lot of international visitors. Being the "face" of Vietnam, it is imperative that authorities should retain control over the buskers and hawkers. That said, as with most other administrative procedures in Vietnam, things can be understandably slow and frustrating. If managing officials can assist in streamlining the application and approval process, this will definitely encourage more talented buskers to perform.

Public performances in Singapore (throughout the whole country) are centrally managed. Performers and buskers have to get a Busking Card valid for one year before being allowed to perform publicly along pedestrian streets, this is very much similar to what authorities in Vietnam are doing. As part of the application for the card, performers must provide in detail the concept and nature of their performance, as well as other required details such as instruments used, how many sets of songs they will be playing, and what genre of songs they are playing. Buskers are allowed to pocket the donations they receive, but they cannot add a price tag to their performance and pro-actively solicit people to pay.

As for complaints about thieves and pickpockets, this is part of a wider social problem. In some ways the crowds gathered together provide a favorable environment for theft, but it is not just the pedestrian streets that are susceptible to such petty crimes. I do not think it is fair or justifiable to blame buskers for a wider social problem. Security can be stepped up by adding additional manpower, but this is just one simple suggestion on deterring crime.

Aidan Wee (shareholding partner of Huttons Vietnam real estate agency)

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