HA NOI - This year, the city of Ha Noi once again has made its fight against the illegal use of pavements a high priority on its agenda, a battle many from both sides of the street doubt can be won, citing countless failures in the past.
Enforcement officers recounted the way street stalls and parking lots sprung back to life as soon as they stopped their drives to 'build civilised city lifestyle."
Clearing up pavements occupied by storefronts overflowing their walls or mobile street vendors was like trying to stop the ebb and flow of a river current.
Tien Phong (Vanguard) newspaper investigated the stubborn phenomena, touring business streets in the districts of Hoan Kiem, Hai Ba Trung and Ba Dinh, and found that the illegal use of payments was going unchecked, even with local law enforcers in sight.
On Hang Dao, Dong Xuan and Hang Ma streets in the Old Quarter, the entire pavement is used for the display of clothes, footwear, wallets, cosmetics and worship trinkets of all kinds.
On these streets, promotional signs made their way into the road bed and shoppers felt free to stop their vehicles in the road to bargain down prices. A division between street and market could not be seen, making traffic congestion horrendous.
The newspaper reporters noted a particularly nervy shop at No. 1 Hang Ma Street which placed large foam boxes in the road to prevent passers-by from crashing into their overflowing product displays.
A pick-up with license plate BKS 29A.013.25 carrying uniformed neighbourhood police and order-keeping forces patrolling the streets did not stop. The shop owners equally did not care about the officers' presence.
The newspaper even witnessed the illegal use of pavements close to several government headquarters.
Take a look at Mondo restaurant on Ba Trieu Street, sitting opposite Hoan Kiem District Party Committee's headquarters, or the cafe houses on Thai Phien Street close to the Hai Ba Trung District People's Committee.
These restaurants turn into bustling gathering places for nearby office workers and for drinking binges after work hours.
Tien Phong newspaper interviewed the former vice chairman of Ha Noi People's Committee, Do Hong An.
He blamed the uncontained abuse of public pavement space on the city government's half-hearted dealing with violations.
"If the heads of sub-city level governments (districts and communes) and police at grassroots levels were held accountable for the occurrence of violations in their localities, the situation would probably be different," he said.
An recommended that pavements be put to use but according to official planning.
He believes it would be better if streets were designated as commercial and non-commercial in certain areas. Commercial streets would again be further restricted to certain categories of goods. Further, only certain kinds of businesses could apply for pavement space with fees imposed.
He suggested that for other areas in the city, the use of pavement could be managed by allotting certain hours for selling breakfast meals and later at night, only selling supper and light snacks.
According to An, proper planning management means using property for its proper purpose; a house designed as a residence should be used for living, not for doing business. For example, a home-turned business has no pre-designed parking areas for customers.
Another prong of the city's high priority effort to crackdown on unmonitored and illegal street-business is that of parking.
In Ha Noi, any section of pavement can become a parking lot after someone corrals it with a string or rope - a signal understood by all as a park site. But who manages these parking enclosures?
Tien Phong newspaper was told by former vice chairman An that the City Department of Transport manages the road while district governments are in charge of pavement areas.
The newspaper talked to the sub-district government of Quan Thanh in Ba Dinh District and discovered that local authorities manage which local unions and associations (for women, youth, war veterans, senior citizen) set up makeshift parking lots.
They said it adds to the peoples' small incomes and they believe helps stabilise parking fees which they argue are higher in other parking areas.
Pham Van Duc, deputy director of Ha Noi Parking Company, said his company manages 200 out of the city's total 1,200 or so parking lots designated by the City Department of Transport.
He estimated the number of those self-managed by commune unions and associations, or spontaneously set up by the private sector, to be around 7,000.
Nguyen Tung Lam, deputy of the Ha Noi People's Council, said the effort and money- consuming drives the city occasionally launches to sort out the persistent practice will continue to be wasteful.
If profits from pavement-business outweighs the administrative fines, it won't work he said.
For now, it looks like tourists will be walking in the roads, breakfast stalls can serve at night, passing cars may stop to barter in the street and veterans may park your bike.