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Should Vietnam rebuild its largest city?

By Editorial   August 22, 2017 | 09:27 pm GMT+7

Following VnExpress International’s call for discussion on how to solve gridlock in Hanoi and Saigon, one reader suggests looking at Paris, Barcelona and Melbourne.

“I think there is no easy solution,” writes Michael Allen, a Ho Chi Minh City transport user, because “there is simply not enough space allocated to roadways.”

As a foreign guest in Vietnam, having observed with interest the traffic issues in Ho Chi Minh City, and contemplated the solutions that are often discussed or announced in the media, Allen thinks:

“It is very likely, that no ‘smart’ solution exists, nor any feasible public transport solution could ease the pressures.”

What he goes on to propose is bold:

"The solution, I believe, goes to the very fundamentals of both 'hard' and "soft' infrastructure that underpins this great city.  One involves the core lack of total physical space allocated to roads.  The second involves how city-wide infrastructure master-planning is governed and managed for the future.

Maybe the only solution is to brutally carve out more total road space via bulldozers.

This would be a drastic, once in 200 years, solution, but maybe it is the only solution. Due to Vietnam’s land law, the government may theoretically have the power to do this, with massive staged relocation of housing and businesses. It would require a whole-of-city planning masterplan with robust civic governance over many years and with full legal backing and funding. With care exercised, to preserve historically significant streetscapes and 'Hem' [alleyways] scapes. The governance would require both pluralistic involvement of multiple stakeholders and transparently sourced expert consultancy advisors.”

As crazy as Allen’s proposal may sound, it has been done before. He points to the Haussmann’s renovation of Paris commissioned by Napoleon III that started in the 1850s and went on all the way till the 1920s.

Another example, Allen says is Barcelona's urban master plan in the district of Eixample which contains 520 city blocks, each able to provide the basic needs for a healthy city life: sunlight, ventilation, greenery, and ease of movement.

It's also worth looking at Melbourne (Australia), the world's most liveable city for seven years in a row as ranked by the Economist. It "had street whole-of-city design masterplanning in 1850s to 1880s, with a strong tradition of municipal and civic planning governance remaining to this day together with strong (localized/provincial - not national) controls over land use," Allen says. 

On the final note, Allen stresses the importance for Ho Chi Minh City to have an identity:

"In all this, an important question is, how would Ho Chi Minh city present itself as uniquely Vietnamese, with both a blend of historical and modern features, the macro-elements that makes it identifiably Vietnamese, and stand out as different from other large generic cities in Asia. This is important, both for future national and civic pride, but also for tourism, liveability, and economic development, where each of this things can be in harmony. Development funds may be scarce now, but maybe the time is right to grasp the mettle of a once in two hundred year opportunity for the future, before it is too late.”

     

Do you agree with Allen’s proposal? Is it time Ho Chi Minh City undergoes a massive renovation? How should the city go about doing it? Let us know in the comment section.

 

*Michael Allen "has zero connection nor interest in anything to do with transport related industries, other than being a transport user." In Ho Chi Minh City, he takes a taxi a few times a week, and tries occasionally, to be a pedestrian. The views expressed here are his own.