Hanoi, HCMC fail to provide their kids with public places to play

By Dang Khoa   August 11, 2022 | 11:36 pm PT
With children in urban areas lacking access to decent playgrounds and parks, parents struggle to find safe outdoor spaces for their children to play.

When summer began this year Truong Ngoc Quynh Nhu of HCMC’s District 3 was as usual struggling to find a safe place near home for her eight-year-old son and five-year-old daughter to play.

She says summer is the "most stressful time" of the year for her because she wants her children to have fun during their holidays but she and her husband are too busy with work to take them on trips.

Since there is no playground near their home, the couple take turns bringing the kids to Tao Dan Park, about 20 minutes away, on weekends. In Vietnam parks often double up as playgrounds for kids, with authorities installing play equipment in many of them.

"I want my children to have a safe place to play. Therefore, this year, like every other year, I have sent them to their grandparents’ in the countryside."

The 34-year-old says she wants them to have a place to run around and hang out with other kids instead of "burying their heads at home in video games or TV."

Theirs is a common problem since parks and playgrounds are insufficient in urban areas with few new ones being built and existing ones becoming degraded or being misused.

A decrepit public park in HCMC’s District 5 in August 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Dang Khoa

A decrepit public park in HCMC’s District 5 in August 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Dang Khoa

HCMC has 405 parks, both public and inside residential projects, with central districts having more and larger parks than outlying ones.

Binh Tan, the most populated district in HCMC with around 784,000 people, is the most notable example: this outlying district does not have a single public park.

It has a few small and medium-sized parks of 1,000-10,000 square meters, but all are inside private housing projects.

The same goes for Districts 12, Nha Be, Hoc Mon, Cu Chi, and Binh Chanh, where there are no large-sized public parks.

The city's urban planners claim to have around 11,400 hectares reserved for public parks, but in reality there are only around 500 hectares of parks.

Officials admit that rapid urbanization is eroding the city’s green space.

Hanoi too

Hanoi also suffers from a shortage of playgrounds, parks and other outdoor public spaces.

According to statistics from the Department of Construction, the inner city area has 63 parks and flower gardens on a total of 280 hectares, or about 2% of the city’s land area.

The four central districts of Hai Ba Trung, Ba Dinh, Hoan Kiem, and Dong Da account for 30 of them and 1.92%.

"When my son says he wants to go out, I often take him to a nearby mall; that is where we play," Truong Vu Bao says.

The 30-year-old in Hanoi’s Long Bien District says his house is small and there are no near public outdoor spaces for his son to play and relieve stress after school.

The nearest park, a 15-minute drive from his home, is always occupied by adults coming to work out or eat street food with their friends.

The next closest park is too small to accommodate the large number of children coming to play during summer and other holidays.

Due to their busy work schedule, he and his wife can only take their second grader son to the cinema, pool or the district’s culture and sports center once in two weeks.

After the school year ended recently Bao did not hesitate for a moment before sending his son down to his father’s hometown in Thanh Hoa Province for a one-month summer experience in the countryside.

Safety is also a big concern. Many parents reject taking their children to public playgrounds and parks since they are occupied by businesses or are decrepit.

Unlike for Bao and Nhu, there is a small public park within walking distance from Truong Thi Cuc’s house in Cau Giay District.

But the 27-year-old does not consider herself luckier than other parents since it does not feel safe to let her five-year-old daughter play here.

She says the park is situated near a roundabout and lots of vehicles drive by, and is badly downgraded. Many of the swings, slides and other equipment are rusted and broken, potentially posing a danger to children, she says.

"It is impossible for me to fully enjoy the space."

A sidewalk cafe outside a public park in HCMC’s District 10. Photo by VnExpress/Dang Khoa

A sidewalk cafe outside a public park in HCMC’s District 10. Photo by VnExpress/Dang Khoa

Officials admit there is a lack of green public spaces in Hanoi and playgrounds are degrading.

Chairman of the city people's council, Nguyen Ngoc Tuan, says Hanoi lacks cultural, sports and park facilities to meet public needs.

Many parents are concerned that the shortage of places to play might impact their children’s mental, physical and behavioral development.

Like Nhu, Phan Minh Cam Tu of HCMC’s District 10 too fears that the lack of play areas will cause her 15-year-old son to become addicted to electronic devices.

The boy wanted to go to her parents’ house in the southern An Giang Province where there is place for physical activity, but Tu could not send him there because the old couple had been sick and cannot take care of him.

Since she has to go to work, there are days when she has to let her son stay at home and play video games all day despite knowing it is not good for him.

"I am afraid he will develop game addiction."

This, she fears, might cause him to neglect his studies and become anti-social and affect his development.

With rapid urban development crowding out children's public spaces, authorities are planning to build more outdoor playgrounds and parks and green spaces.

The HCMC people's committee unveiled a plan in May to build at least 10 hectares of new public parks and two hectares of public green areas this year.

It seeks to expand the public park area to at least 150 hectares by 2025.

The goal is that, by 2030, there will be one square meter of parkland per citizen, almost double the current 0.55 square meters.

Similarly, the Hanoi administration has a program to renovate many existing parks and build six new ones in 2021-25.

It targets average public and green space of 3.02 square meters per person in the central districts by 2030.

Knowing the importance of playing outdoor for kids, Nhu is considering buying a high-end apartment in District 7 with a small park and playground right on the property so that her children can spend more time outside and less on electronic devices.

"I want them to socialize, learn to make new friends and to share, and improve their physical health."

But that is a long-term plan. She says in the meantime, if her kids want to go out, "I’ll take them to Tao Dan Park and keep an eye on them constantly, or take them to a mall near our house."

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