HCMC takes belated steps to sort out skyscraper mess

By Gia Minh   May 15, 2022 | 06:00 pm PT
HCMC takes belated steps to sort out skyscraper mess
Vehicles fill the street of Pho Quang in HCMC's Tan Binh District, with skyscrapers in the background, May 10, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh
Skyscrapers and other major projects will have to take measures to avoid traffic jams near their construction sites or implement their projects in phases, HCMC authorities say.

Experts say such tight restrictions should have been imposed long ago to avoid the current mess and chaos on many roads.

Cars and motorbikes crowded Pho Quang Street in Tan Binh District on Tuesday morning last week, dragging themselves sluggishly towards the downtown area.

The road, an entrance to the Tan Son Nhat Airport, is just two kilometers long and only eight meters wide. Yet there are 15 skyscrapers lining it, with tens of thousands of apartments, hotels and offices.

The largest project on the street is an apartment complex with four blocks and 16 floors, hosting around 500 apartments. It has been open for about five years. There are other complexes with 8-10 floors and a hospital, so the street is always crowded. It gets hellish during rush hours.

Pho Quang isn’t the only street plagued by quickly rising skyscrapers and infrastructures that can’t keep up with them. Nguyen Huu Tho, Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai and Mai Chi Tho are a few more examples. HCMC currently has over 1,000 buildings that are 25-100 m tall, mainly in districts 1, 3, 5, 6 and Thu Duc City, overloading surrounding infrastructure.

By the end of 2021, the ratio between land for traffic and land for urban construction in HCMC was around 13 percent, 10 percentage points lower than the normal standard. Roads in the city, running a total length of over 4,500 km in total, mark a density of 2.26 km per square kilometer, a fifth of the usual standard. HCMC's figures are lower than other similar cities around the world including Bangkok, Taipei and Singapore.

Nguyen Huu Nguyen from the Vietnam Urban Development Planning Association said the main cause of overloaded infrastructures was inconsistent urban and traffic planning, as well as the lack of coordination between relevant authorities. There was also a lack of connectivity between construction projects and the infrastructure around them, he added.

The consequence is that skyscrapers are erected in areas where infrastructures cannot support them or have not been properly invested in. Expanding roads, meanwhile, is not easy as land prices would increase, meaning land clearance compensation would increase as well. No budget can cover that, said Nguyen.

"The quickly increasing construction density leads to increasing population and travel demand while public spaces are narrowing, affecting life quality," he said.

According to the HCMC Department of Transport, it requests different authorities to approve construction projects based on different criteria, but cannot request for projects to be suspended.

To resolve the situation where infrastructure development cannot keep pace with other constructions, HCMC now requires all construction projects to have traffic connectivity solutions and to anticipate changes in travel demands. Major projects need to have evaluations on their impacts on traffic in order to minimize them.

Projects in downtown areas in districts 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, Phu Nhuan, Binh Thanh, Tan Binh, Go Vap, Binh Tan, Tan Phu and Thu Duc City will be evaluated for their impacts within a 0.5 km radius. Projects in suburban areas like Hoc Mon, Binh Chanh, Nha Be, Cu Chi and Can Gio districts will be evaluated for their impacts within a 0.3 km radius.

If projects fail to meet such requirements, they might not be allowed to invest, or they would have to be done in phases instead.

Ngo Viet Nam Son, an architect, said such evaluations for skyscrapers were necessary and should have been done a long time ago to ensure urban planning consistency.

In areas where construction density is already high and their traffic infrastructure handles more projects, new projects should not be approved. If investors want projects to go ahead, they must pay up to build more roads for the sake of connectivity and to meet increased travel demands.

"Investors would finish projects, sell them and walk away. If the surroundings are affected, it is unfair that the national budget is used to clean up the mess," said Son, proposing that HCMC needs to have stricter policies regarding construction approval. Evaluations on the impacts of projects must be done by different units, not just the investor, in order to ensure objectivity, he added.

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