Intra-city migration on the rise among families

By Phan Duong   July 23, 2023 | 08:56 pm PT
Vietnamese families are increasingly moving to different neighborhoods in the same city to provide better living conditions for their children.

Hong, 43, of Hanoi, started searching for a home in the capital’s Old Quarter as soon as her son was accepted to a public high school in the city’s central Hoan Kiem District.

Her family found a 50-square-meter house on Hang Hanh street in the heart of the historic district. At VND9 million (around $380) a month in rent, they took it immediately, planning to move in before their son's academic year start this September.

Her son can then ride his bicycle to his new high school, while she and her husband can jog around Sword Lake, or hit their favorite hotspots in the old quarter anytime they want.

Hong wandering around the shopping mall integrated in the urban complex where her family is currently living. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong

Hong in the shopping mall at the urban complex where her family lives. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong

Hong originally lived with her family on Bach Mai Street, Hai Ba Trung District, in a house that had been passed down through generations of her family. She started disliking the neighborhood around the time her son entered grade 4 because she didn’t find the environment suitable to raising children.

"The alley in which located our old house was always noisy and crowded, because it was full of eateries and other shops," she says. "I started dreaming of living somewhere near a park, with modern infrastructure and lifestyles."

She fell for the Linh Dam Peninsula urban area in Hoang Mai District because it met all of those requirements. She and her husband immediately bought a 70-meter-square apartment there.

"My two kids had the chance to see all kinds of things there," she says. "I feel like their lives became better after we moved."

Then the pandemic hit. During the social distancing period, her family started realizing how life in the new urban area was too quiet. They had to frequently visit the city center to "keep updated [with social trends]."

The family dropped by an urban complex during one of those visits, and became enamored of the modern lifestyle and infrastructure there, including supermarkets and entertainment areas. Hong and her husband spent even less time deciding to buy an apartment in the complex than when they bought their Linh Dam apartment.

The place is also where her family is currently living in, where she describes as full of people and life, but still "privacy-guaranteed," which she highly appreciates.

"I work as a psychologist, so I really like how my clients are not nitpicked on when they come to my place here," she says.

Though she found nothing that dissatisfied her with life in this urban complex yet, Hong still began feeling the urge to again change her residential area.

So when her son got accepted into a high school in the central district of Hoan Kiem, she immediately grabbed the chance to move.

In-migration, or the act of moving in from another region of the same country, has become a popular phenomenon in Vietnam over the past few decades. But relocating within the same city, like what Hong and her family have been doing, is also on the rise, says Dr. Nguyen Duc Loc, president of the Social Life Research Institute.

"The current generation does not prioritize the idea of owning a house. They can buy a whole new house if they can afford it, but renting one is not a bad idea in their opinion either," he explains. "Because of that, frequent moving in and out is increasingly popular in large metropolitan areas."

The 2021 Time-Point Population Change and Family Planning Survey, conducted by the Vietnam General Statistics Office, shows that urban-urban migrations is currently higher than any other type of migration within Vietnam, with around 34% of the migrants reporting that they moved from one urban region to another, within the same city or not.

Loc explains that people have the tendency to live near their workplaces. Since people mainly cultivated their fields to make a living in the past, they found it unnecessary to move frequently. Compared to that, in the current era, people may change their jobs, and thus, their residential addresses, more frequently.

Another reason for the phenomenon of urban-urban migrants is the fast pace of building and developing new urban areas. Whenever a new urban complex that integrates more modern office buildings, educational institutions, and department stores is completed, people are likely to flock to such places to enjoy the highest quality infrastructure and services.

Not to mention that all of the public schools and some private schools in Vietnam are still maintaining policies of only accepting children living in the same ward as the school. Because of that, neighborhoods surrounding prestigious schools are more likely to be populated with more desirable (and expensive) real estate properties.

Exclusivity is another contributing factor.

"I have seen some urban areas allowing only their residents to enjoy their built-in infrastructure," Loc says. "This policy contributes to in-migration."

Dr. Trinh Duy Luan, former president of the Institute of Sociology, says a "hustle and bustle" lifestyle is a representative characteristic of a modernized society. In order to save time as well as suffer less from things like traffic jams and exhaust fumes, urban residents tend to try to live close to their workplaces. Therefore, they’re less reluctant to change their residential places.

"The more bustling the life in a city is, the more mobile its residents are," Loc says.

Intra-city migration is mainly the wheelhouse of young families who are at the peak of their careers and have school-age children.

"The biggest motivation for them to relocate is to help their children have the best living conditions," Luan adds.

Tran Thu Ha and her two daughters had a turning point in their lives when Ha decided to relocate to the neighborhood of a bilingual school in HCMC’s Binh Chanh District seven years ago, so that her daughters could be exposed to foreign languages at an early age.

She spent around a month contemplating whether it was worth it for her to move further from her workplace and leave their newly-bought apartment just for her daughters to have better studying conditions.

Thu Ha and her two daughters. Photo courtesy of Ha

Thu Ha and her two daughters. Photo courtesy of Ha

"My kids have three swimming classes a week, which makes them sunburnt but happy," she says. "They have been studying music with a real orchestra in a soundproof facility, which is totally different from what they had in their old school as well. So I think it’s totally worth it."

That was the fourth time Ha had relocated to a new house since she moved to HCMC. All of her relocating decisions were made when her daughters changed schools. They were based on her desire to live only one or two kilometers away from her daughters’ school, so that the children could ride their bikes to school, which helped Ha save time bringing them to and picking them up from school.

Even though Ha now has to travel 18 kilometers to reach her own workplace, she still thinks of it as a fair sacrifice.

Decisions made by people like Hong and Ha align with what Luan points out: that education is a principal factor promoting in-migration. According to him, high-income households are especially involved in their children’s pursuit of education and are more willing to spend higher amounts of money facilitating it.

On the other hand, the phenomenon of in-migration reflects differences in urban infrastructure designs.

"Scattered overpopulation is less likely to happen if every part of the city is similarly designed and invested-in," Loc comments.

Hong considers each relocation a chance for her family to experience their lives in a new manner.

Meanwhile, Ha’s father always suggests that she should settle down permanently at a place instead of moving around the city, as he believes doing so takes up a lot of time and energy.

But Ha will probably move one more time within this year. Her two daughters have been accepted to a high school in Finland, so she is thinking about finding a new place closer to her workplace.

"Moving around is a choice of mine, not a hobby," she says.

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