Hanoi, HCMC need to fix overcrowded alleys

By Anh Pham   September 26, 2023 | 07:49 pm PT
Hanoi, HCMC need to fix overcrowded alleys
A woman tries to get into a small alley in downtown Ho Chi Minh City on her motorbike, March 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Tung
A city with so many small alleys cannot be a safe, modern place to live in.

The fire that killed 56 people at a mini apartment building in a small, crowded downtown Hanoi alley two weeks ago should teach us several lessons about urban planning.

One of them is that the more is not always the merrier. We don't need overcrowding in our city centers.

A relative of mine lives in a rural part of Bac Ninh Province, which borders Hanoi. He drives 80 km every day to and from work in the center of the province.

He can afford a house in the province's center, but chose to live far away and make the long commute.

"It's spacious and airy in the countryside, there's no pollution, people are nice, everything is available, and it only takes an hour to reach the provincial center or Hanoi," he explained to me. "Why should I suffer life in a crowded place?"

Vietnam is yet to have the infrastructure that allows people to commute hundreds of km to work every day like in Japan, South Korea or the U.S. When we have scientific, convenient traffic networks, we can build satellite urban areas and residential areas far from city centers.

It's not wrong to choose to live in city centers for convenient travel, but when living there means a suffocating, even dangerous life, we need to ask ourselves: "Is it worth it?"

Living far away from city centers but in an airy, spacious, and safe house is not a bad idea.

It's time large cities like Hanoi and HCMC restrict construction in alleys that are too small for convenient living and too small for effective rescue in case of disasters. Authorities should also offer incentives for residents to gift their land to expand alleyways, as has happened at several locations in HCMC.

Another solution would be to launch a campaign for people to join their separate houses into apartment complexes with open spaces for roads and parks. This measure has been adopted by many urban areas in Europe.

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