8 reasons why renting out sidewalks in HCMC is not a practical plan

By Nguyen Kim Chung   October 13, 2023 | 04:00 pm PT
8 reasons why renting out sidewalks in HCMC is not a practical plan
A task force seizes plastic stools from a shop encroaching the sidewalk of Nguyen Hue Street in HCMC's District 1, September 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Tung
HCMC expects to collect tens of millions of dollars from leasing out sidewalks to businesses from next year. But it will have to pay a much bigger price for turning sidewalks into markets.

Those who agree with the sidewalk-for-rent plan use the excuse of supporting street vendors or recognizing a long-existing sidewalk economy in Vietnam.

They even cite examples of several countries renting out their sidewalks.

But few people have discussed the consequences of leaving sidewalk space to shops and other businesses.

I’m going to list eight reasons why this is not a practical plan.

First, it’s not a financially secure plan. The city expects to collect a large sum of money to invest in infrastructure, but I wonder how much of the money will be left after deducting management fees, cleaning fees, public order fees, etc. The city should learn its lesson from allowing cars to park on roads for a fee, which has been a losing proposition.

Second, sidewalks are a major part of the city’s landscape. They are the face of the city when it comes to attracting tourists, and help improve the living space for residents. So one should think very carefully before deciding to turn that space into a giant market. Look at Singapore. One of the first things that late PM Lee Kuan Yew did to transform it was to move all sidewalk vendors into markets and shopping malls. That helped build the clean and orderly Singapore we see now.

Third, a street vendor’s income depends more on demand, i.e. the strength of the economy, than where they sell. And if people buy more from vendors on the sidewalks, they will buy less from markets and supermarkets, who too need support. Vendors in markets and shopping malls might then move to sidewalks, where the rent is lower. Supermarkets and stores will lose revenues and pay lower taxes.

Fourth, public hygiene and order will be affected. You have to calculate the number of new public toilets and trash cans that will be needed to carry out the plan. If you have not managed to imagine how dirty things might get, just check out the entrances to public hospitals where street vendors congregate.

Fifth, it is hard to confirm that the people who rent sidewalk space are all poor street vendors who need a place to make a living. I fear some people will rent directly from the city at cheap prices and rent the space again to poor street vendors at higher rates. Then the goal of supporting poor street vendors will be defeated.

Sixth, there will be no space for pedestrians since vendors will surely utilize it all though they are instructed to leave some for walking. Pedestrians might have to step on to the road. And if they meet with an accident, who will take responsibility, the vendors or the ones who give them the space for rent?

Seventh, there will be conflicts between residents and vendors who sell in front of their houses over noise, waste and reduced access to the entrance.

Eighth, developed countries allow sidewalk vendors at limited locations that are open during certain hours to specifically serve tourists; they do not allow sidewalk vendors everywhere and at all times.

For these eight reasons, I think HCMC should jettison the plan.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
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