Greed beats green as Da Nang falls short of tree cover

By Nguyen Dong    July 12, 2020 | 02:00 am PT
"There is only sunshine and dust these days."

Tong Phuoc Hiep, 63, had just walked 500 m in sweltering 40 degrees Celsius heat.

On the sidewalk from Hung Vuong Street in Thanh Khe District to Con Market in Hai Chau District there was no tree shade to soften the heat, he complained.

Motorbike drivers travel on Hung Vuong Street in Da Nang City without shades of green trees. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.

Motorbike drivers travel on Hung Vuong Street in Da Nang City without shades of green. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.

For a coastal city and a tourism hotspot, Da Nang has fallen far short of its greenery target. Many streets in the downtown area, like Le Do, Hoang Hoa Tham and Hung Vuong lack tree shade.

The Administration of Technical Infrastructure under the Ministry of Construction has warned that Vietnam’s biggest cities have only two to three square meters of green area per person. That is less than a third of what the World Health Organization recommends for a healthy urban life - nine square meters of green area per person.

It is evident that in Da Nang, the urban hub of central Vietnam which is considered the country's third most important city after Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the tree density is not high enough.

Da Nang authorities had said at a conference last year that they plan to spend VND2 trillion ($86 million) on becoming a smart city by 2030.

Under a master plan submitted by the city administration to the Ministry of Construction for appraisal, the city aims to have total urban construction land of 32,227 hectares for 1.56 million residents by 2030, in which 9.6 square meters per person will be reserved for planting trees.

Vo Tan Ha, deputy head of the city’s Department of Construction said the city of 1.2 million residents currently has just 4.52 square meters of green space per person, half the standard set in the master plan.

Profit prioritized

Architect Ho Duy Diem, former head of the city's planning department, said the main cause of the lack of urban greenery was poor planning.

More green space means less constructed area, which for many developers means less profit, he said, adding that many investors ignore the green needs of the community.

"Each square meter of land in the city can sell for VND50-100 million ($2,160-4,320), so the area meant for trees would be taken for the sake of land sale profit.

"Management of urban planning seems to be ignored," Diem said.

He also cited several other reasons, including inappropriate tree selection and planting techniques and the building of concrete roads without leaving any land for planting trees.

A small area of green is seen in urban

A small area of green is seen in urban.

Diem said in the past when public complaints about many urban areas losing their greenery prompted the construction department to review the situation, they found that the areas marked for parks still existed. However, "because of profits, investors focus on building houses first, not creating green parks. "

Diem stressed that the land fund for parks and green trees in the city was not much. "Da Nang needs 100 hectares of land for trees to meet the standards for more than 1.1 million people. Whether this can be done depends on the determination of the city government."

Storm prone

Da Nang authorities have blamed the lack of urban greenery on the impacts of tropical storms that hit the central coast every year. Many trees have been uprooted by storms, they’ve said.

Some officials have also said there is insufficient land for trees to take deep roots (and not be felled by storms) given underlying infrastructure like drainage ditches, water supply pipes, optical cables and power cables.

The Da Nang Green Trees-Park Company takes care of 65,000 trees of all kinds on more than 250 streets and 80 locations including gardens, memorials and squares. It also oversees nearly 700,000 square meters of lawns, flowers and more than 27,170 ornamental plants.

Architect Ngo Viet Nam Son said Da Nang was finding it difficult to improve the rate of green trees in the city because the population keeps increasing and the land fund was limited. He warned that things could "get worse" like in major cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as many new urban projects continue to be invested in.

That stuffy feeling

Many Da Nang residents have said they feel the city is getting stuffy without enough trees and public parks. The city has the September 23 Park which has an area of over 10 hectares and the Youth Park with about 6-7 hectares, but the rest are mostly very small ones in residential areas that have been built recently.

According to the World Health Organization, green spaces such as parks, sports fields and wetlands or other ecosystems, represent "a fundamental component of any urban ecosystem."

"Green urban areas facilitate physical activity and relaxation, and form a refuge from noise. Trees produce oxygen, and help filter out harmful air pollution, including airborne particulate matter," it says on its website.

It also cites estimates that physical inactivity, linked to poor walkability and lack of access to recreational areas, accounts for 3.3 percent of global deaths.

Architect Son said trees should be prioritized because they "not only help to regulate the climate, but also limit air and noise pollution, and increase groundwater reserves in the context of Da Nang struggling with increasing salinity intrusion."

He said that if Da Nang is interested in genuinely sustainable development, "it should not ignore standards for green spaces."

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