Vietnam’s urban evolution

January 18, 2017 / By

Many Vietnamese consider their doorsteps and streets a natural extension of their own home. With ground floor shops overflowing onto the street, and homes widely open to the view of passersby, what will happen to the theatre of Vietnamese daily life as the urban landscape changes?

With residents beginning to move from shop houses to apartments, what does this mean for the Urban Evolution of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi?

As emerging metropolises, these cities are undergoing an urban transition. More than just an architectural change, it involves economic and social movements across the country. The evolution of Vietnam’s urban lifestyle has led to subsequent developmental needs for public spaces in urban areas.

Street life has typically been a way of assessing the “Asian-ness” of a city. In the case of Vietnam, the typical street has been the closest we can get to having a public space in an urban area. Unlike classical European cities, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi do not typically have squares, and only a few parks, which are mainly located in inherited colonial centres. While Vietnam has ambitious infrastructure projects underway such as airports and industrial development, very few are new, open and green public spaces.

As we begin to experience the growing pains of first world problems such as traffic congestion, pollution and over-population, the government and city dwellers are beginning to stand up and take a greater interest in the development and enhancement of urban public spaces. But much more is needed if we are to build truly global cities.

Fresh thinking in developing cities

The United Nations is committed to providing public spaces in the heart of the world’s developing cities. Outlined in its 2016-2030 Sustainable Development goals are plans to help cities “provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities”.

This goal will have a significant impact in Asia, which currently houses 53 per cent of the world’s urban population, and is home to sixteen of the world’s 28 megacities. In Vietnam, we are beginning to see the first stages of this urban solution, such as the opening of the first walking street, Nguyen Hue, in Ho Chi Minh City in April 2015, and the expansion of a walking street around Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi since September 2016 – creating a huge attraction for locals and foreigners alike.

Investing for the future

As urbanisation leads to denser cities and higher demand for land, the pressure is on to create and maintain public spaces. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. The construction and development of sustainable public spaces in urban life remains a challenge in Vietnam.

Creating such spaces, particularly green spaces, is just the start – as a long-term commitment they require regular investment and government support to keep them fit for purpose. The benefits will outweigh the costs, so there needs to be a concerted effort in ensuring more will be done in helping to develop Vietnam’s urban landscape to benefit its citizens.


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