Saigon River has much to offer, and HCMC should use it smartly

October 2, 2022 | 04:32 pm PT
Nguyen Mai Civil engineer
Esplanade Park in Boston City is situated along the Charles River.

I cannot remember how many times I have strolled in the park, but what I do know is that every time I completely indulged myself in the beauty of nature, which is cleverly arranged by the hands of humans.

The people who planned the park fully applied the open space design of the river basin, making the city’s vibes flow in harmony with the river.

Almost every large city has a river passing by it since human development has always relied on a source of water.

We have the Thames in London, Seine in Paris, Sumida in Tokyo, Chicago River in Chicago, Han River in Seoul, and the Red River in Hanoi and the Saigon River in HCMC.

Rivers are invaluable assets for a city, the soul, the spirit that calms them down from the rapid pace of urbanization.

When living in HCMC, I used to observe the Saigon River from my window several times a day without getting bored. I considered myself lucky and privileged to live in a place with such a view.

The Saigon River belongs to the entire city but, due to various reasons, watching it has now become the privilege of a few who can afford it.

So I was very interested to hear early this year that HCMC has approved a project to "develop new activities and economic services along the Saigon River in the 2020-2045 period."

The project could be worth waiting for as it aims to gradually develop a multi-functional infrastructure system along the river's banks that could serve service and commercial activities and ensure the preservation of nature.

It replaced a proposal to build a boulevard along the river that came up five years ago and aroused concerns about concretization and detracting from the potential and value of the river.

From now through 2025 the city plans to collect public opinion on the project’s design and plans.

As someone working in urban planning and sustainable design and, above all, with my love for the Saigon River, I would like to put forth some of my ideas.

Along the river, the city should build a park or some other public green space project and develop tourism and commercial services around it.

Given the tidal characteristics of the Saigon River, the design of the park should optimally factor in climate change adaptation measures to avoid concretization.

We can either opt for a "passive" design (keeping things the same and making the most of natural landscapes to create an open space) or a "semi-passive" design (making the most of natural landscapes but combining it with manmade structures) so that people can feel connected to the river and its water.

The city sorely lacks public green spaces for people to gather. The parks available now are not large enough and are amid dense traffic with the attendant pollution, smoke and dust, making them unattractive.

The riverine area could be exploited for economic efficiency. We can operate restaurants, offer tourism services such as kayaking and organize outdoor events and culture and food fairs, enabling local firms to promote their products. The revenues from leasing out premises for such events could be used to maintain the park.

The Bach Dang Wharf Park by the Saigon River, January 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

The Bach Dang Wharf Park by the Saigon River, January 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

The plan should also factor in the cultural and tourism potential of the river. It would be best if the riverbank is turned into spaces for groups of young people to picnic or for retirees to gather for coffee and tea.

It should be a place for sunrise and sunset lovers, people who are passionate about dancing, outdoor yoga practitioners, and those who simply want a place to enjoy a book or a song.

Another important aspect that needs to be brought into the discussion is the traffic system.

Public transport on the river is yet another valuable potential that has not been fully exploited. Bangkok is doing quite well at this, allowing tourists to go from one place to another for free along the Chao Phraya River while avoiding traffic jams and being able to see the beauty of the city from the river.

HCMC has the Saigon Waterbus, but the potential for waterway public transport on the Saigon River is still very much to be exploited. This does not just help ease the pressure on roads but also reduces dust and pollution.

In March the city inaugurated the Bach Dang Wharf Park by the river.

The park has been welcomed by the public. If you go past it, you will see a vibrant but not too noisy place, bustling but not too busy, and can feel the positive change in the city.

There are more than just a few successful examples of exploiting a river in the heart of a city around the world. The Saigon River is more beautiful and convenient than the rivers in other cities, so why can't we do something from which the whole world can learn?

I believe that the country has no shortage of ideas or people who are willing to contribute designs and expertise to find the optimal, trendy and sustainable solution for our most special river.

I hope HCMC will begin consultations to listen to people because planning and building a city is a story that does not belong to any one person or generation.

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