To live in Hong Kong is to experience a continuous assault on your senses.
For an auditory assault, descend from your high level apartment to street level and it goes from a soft hum of white noise to the full throttle of taxis and impatient car honking, the screeching of the tram, the sirens of ambulances and police vehicles in a hurry, the yelling of vendors through speakers (this should be banned), the cacophonous music of buskers, delivery men rolling their metal carts, the never ending drilling and thunderous clanging of construction both above your head and beneath your feet.
Then there’s the olfactory assault. The smell of dog pee, the trail of cigarette smoke still curling from the smoker two steps ahead, the dampness of drains and venting of sewers, the exhaust of restaurants and vendors with their frying, baking, steaming. The repetitive waves of exhaust fumes from cars, trucks and old buses shifting from idle to acceleration.
It can be exhilarating and exhausting if you’re not used to this dense urban environment, and especially so if you have a baby.
I was walking down Wan Chai road on a Saturday morning and cars were stuck and some drivers didn’t take their hands off the horn. I gave those drivers my most evil glares… what did they expect? Smooth traffic on a Saturday afternoon? If you want to get there fast, leave your car at home and take the train. Poor baby had repeated auditory shocks from the honking and gave up sleeping. For the rest of us, we grow accustomed to the noise but that does not mean it’s plessurable to be on the streets.
This made me reflect on electric automated vehicles and how much more pleasant dense urban environments could become.
Imagine no idling engine fumes from vehicles stuck in traffic for an hour.
Imagine no out of date enviro 500 buses (the private companies should have a scrappage scheme in place) but quiet clean electric double deckers with no crazy braking bus drivers.
Imagine no honking from ten cars stuck behind an unloading truck or a taxi that was a bit slow in dropping off a passenger curbside.
Imagine no traffic jams as the cars would be automatically redirecting to use the best route.
Imagine no frustrated drivers as they could all be transfixed by the latest Facebook posting.
Imagine that if you wanted, you could get out of the car and walk to your destination and your car could self park or meet you there.
Imagine if your government made it possible.
Hong Kong is the no.1 Tesla adopter, so the rich are onto something. (Tesla owners, Thank you for choosing a vehicle that does not engine idle and pump out fumes and noise on acceleration).
But if the rich policy makers and businessmen want clean air and less mental stress for their children, better lobby for something to be done at street level, because that’s where the kids are spending most of their day.
The first baby step? Pedestrianise the streets for a day on the weekend. That doesn’t involve legislation or taxpayer dollars.
Next, get the finance minister to get off his rear on the budget and do something for the local community. That will draw political ire away from the current status quo if people of all economic backgrounds just became healthier. This may offset the budget for the health ministry.
See what air pollution does to your body in this short animation.