More and more it appears Kunming streets and sidewalks are becoming the domain of unregistered vendors who sell all manner of things from mats and tables on the pavement. In the past, many seemingly half-hearted attempts have been made to restrict such behavior, especially in places where vendors block traffic.
None of the initiatives have proved particularly successful. However, a new strategy was unveiled early on the morning of March 25, when city planners decided to simply eliminate some empty pedestrian space. Local news outlets have dubbed the tactic 'Plants vs Zombies' (植物大战僵尸), a reference to the incredibly popular video game of the same name.
Commuters and pedestrians walking through the intersection of Dongfeng Xi Lu and Renmin Zhong Lu on Tuesday may have noticed the area was a bit more green than normal. Overnight, workers installed more than 500 large potted plants on sidewalks near the popular shopping destination Xiaoximen (小西门) in an attempt to discourage curbside hawkers.
The intersection where the plant blockade was deployed is known by locals as the 'turtleback flyover' (龟背立交桥). Built suddenly in 2008, the overpass was designed as a means to separate vehicular and pedestrian traffic, with cars and buses passing over an area designed for bicycles and those on foot. For roughly two years an ever-growing number of slap-dash, unlicensed merchants have descended on the covered walkway. Somewhat ironically, their arrival has made the intersection one of the busiest and most congested areas in Kunming's downtown area during the evenings.
The plants were put in place by workers from a local business called Daguan Properties Limited, which is also tasked with upkeep of the greenery. A spokesman for the company, Liu Yiqing (刘翼青), said the plants serve the dual purpose of blocking space often used by vendors while also beautifying a usually drab area. "This is the first time we've tried a move like this to deal with street vendors. We hope citizens will support it and protect the plants," Liu said.
Unmentioned by Liu, but alluded to by local reporters covering the story, is the idea that plants may be significantly less violent and boisterous than the people usually assigned to prevent streetside hawking. Kunming's urban management officers — or chengguan (城管) — are charged with keeping city streets free of unlicensed commerce, among other duties. Over the years they have developed a bit of a nasty reputation as bullies who target only the weakest and least connected vendors.
In March 2010, frustrated vendors and residents of Kunming's Wuhua District clashed with a number of chengguan officials. The incident culminated in a police car being overturned and set ablaze. Only a month later, other officers were accused of backing their car over a deaf man whose house they had just demolished and then dragging him 50 meters. The list goes on. Now, at one busy Spring City intersection at least, these agents have been supplanted.
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