Walking street business boom frustrates walkers

Update: August, 17/2018 - 08:00
People are on the walking street around the Hoàn Kiếm (Returned Sword) Lake in Hà Nội. Keeping public order along the street remains a difficult problem. — VNA/VNS Photo Quang Quyết
Viet Nam News

HÀ NỘI — Two years after the walking street around the iconic Hoàn Kiếm (Returned Sword) Lake was first introduced to the Hanoians, the place has become a top destination for families and friends to hang out on weekends. But not everyone is happy with how the walking street has become a commercial centre and, some say, a big mess.

The so-called walking street in the centre Hoàn Kiếm District is actually not a single street but rather comprised of 16 streets that run around and adjacent to the lake – the heart of the capital. Local authorities roughly estimate that 5,000-7,000 people flock to the walking zone during the day on weekends, and as many as 20,000 turn out at night.

The largest number of people ever recorded at one time in the area was 200,000.

Accompanying the crowds are activities and small businesses offering entertainment services to pedestrians, such as the toy electric cars for kids.

From only a few people that rented out electric cars and power wheels for children, the business has now become an industry taking over all the roads where people are supposed to enjoy walking.

It is easy to spot the small cars carrying small children as the parents run after them cheering all along the streets of Hàng Khay and Hàng Bài and in the area near the Lý Thái Tổ Statue. Ordinary walkers tend to steer clear of those streets due to the fear of being hit in the kneecaps by the tiny cars.

The walking zone has also became a popular place for groups of musicians or dancers to get together and perform for a little money. To some, these are not lively cultural experiences but serious irritations.

Nguyễn Minh Ngọc from the suburban Hà Đông District told Tiền Phong (Vanguard) newspaper that she often took her two daughters to the lakeside walking street for some relaxation on the weekends.

But the noise pollution was becoming overwhelming for the three.

“A dozen performing groups played traditional music, sang bolero and performed modern dance on Đinh Tiên Hoàng and Hàng Khay streets at the same time. They were also not very far from each other and the mixture of music was horrible,” she complained.

Other walkers, meanwhile, questioned the local authorities’ management of the walking zone when more and more street vendors are showing up in the place.

Tourist Nguyễn Ngọc An from the southern province of Đồng Nai recently came to visit Hà Nội with his wife for the first time. After walking around the lake for some time, they went over to a bench for some rest. A vendor quickly approached the couple and demanded that they buy drinks if they wanted to sit on that bench as it was “owned” by her.

For two tiny glasses of dracontomelon juice, the couple was charged a sky-high price, at VNĐ80,000 (US$3.5),  An said. When he took out his smartphone and wanted to record her, the vendor threatened to smash his phone.

“I was shocked that this kind of vendor service still exists in the heart of the capital,” he said.

Lax management?

Hoàn Kiếm District People’s Committee vice chairman Phạm Tuấn Long said that the number of people flowing to the lake walking area was increasing over time.

“As the place became more crowded, problems regarding urban order, traffic safety and hygiene started popping up,” Long said.

He admitted that the authorities were well aware of the rising number of street vendors roaming the area and the people coming from other districts to open electric car businesses and other kinds of small firms.

Long said that the authorities have tried to tighten their management of the walking zone, as the lake management committee recently asked for approval to recruit more management officers. Six neighbouring wards including Hàng Bạc, Hàng Đào, Hàng Trống, Tràng Tiền, Lý Thái Tổ and Hàng Gai also offered help by sending their ward officers to join the patrol of the walking streets and punish any violations found.

Such punishments, however, proved to be ineffective as some vendors and performers without licence still return time after time, Long admitted. — VNS