False flowers bloom in Saigon as green space withers away

As the city continues to hack away at its already scarce green space, vinyl posters cover up the scars.

Saigon has announced a detailed plan to remove 258 towering hardwoods from Ton Duc Thang Street to make way for a new bridge to the Thu Thiem Peninsula. 

The tree clearance hasn't drawn the same opposition it did a few years ago. No petitions have been organized and many have even voiced support for the effort to further develop the city.

A month prior, during a single afternoon, leafy Le Loi Street was also clear-cut to make way for the city’s metro line.

As the city continues to hack away at its already scarce green space, vinyl posters cover up the scars.

Large screens printed with natural landscape bring breath-taking highlands landscapes and lush green forests teeming with exotic plants to the city's dusty corners. Tulip bulbs and sunflowers spring forth from flat, sunbaked displays throughout the central business district. 

In most cases, these natural images mask messy construction sites by offering digital renderings of a bright future. Others serve only to decorate the present.

Some restaurants and shopping malls have gone one step further by throwing up images of trees and blossoms to recreate natural beauty. These panoramas did little to cool the city during the dry season swelter and, as the summer deluge gets going, they'll offer no roots to absorb rainwater or mitigate flooding. 

Ton Duc Thang, one of the city's most beautiful tree-lined streets that will be cut bare by the project.

On Ton Duc Thang Street, the doomed trees stand above a bright digital rendering of the riverside to come, though no deadline for the revitalization project has been announced. Until then, the city will have to satisfy itself with vinyl posters of everything it stands to gain in exchange for everything it's already lost.

A raincoat vendor walks past a digital rendering of a Ho Chi Minh City waterfront dotted with high-rises, a metro line, street trees and lush green parks. This photo was taken on Ton Duc Thang Street where the existing canopy is about to be cut down.

An orange vendor walks past a banner of a sunflower field on Ly Tu Trong Street (District 1).

A poster depicting Vietnam’s northern mountains hangs over a fence on Tran Quoc Thao Street (District 3).

Two men play chess against the backdrop of a flowing stream on Pasteur Street.

A woman sits in the entrance to her artificial shrub and flower shop on 3/2 Street.

Wedding gates sit on display along Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street (District 3). The flowery décor can be rented for between VND500,000 and 900,000 ($22-40), roughly 10 times cheaper than the real thing.

A Japanese restaurant uses fake cherry blossoms to highlight the origins of the food it offers.

Plastic bamboo offers slim shade in an air-conditioned shopping mall in Ho Chi Minh City.

Cherry blossoms bloom around a Christmas tree at a coffee shop in District 1.

Two years ago, a retired teacher named Nguyen Van Minh, 75, began painting murals depicting natural scenery throughout his neighborhood. Born in the lush highlands town of Da Lat, Minh hoped to liven up his drab concrete environs for others like himself.

“Most people in Saigon are also migrants from the countryside,” Minh said. “I choose to paint trees and the green, lively world they come from to give people a sense of home in this city.”

He has painted two murals in alleys off of Nguyen Khoai Street (District 4).

Two young graffiti artists, Tan Luc and Trang Khoa, covered the walls of a kindergarten in Binh Thanh District with the green landscapes of Hanoi. They are working on a project to decorate Saigon with famous sites from throughout the country.

A pesticide company advertises its eco-friendly bona fides on Nguyen Khoai Street (District 4).

A Google timelapse video shows how fast green spaces have been swallowed by roads and buildings.

By Thanh Nguyen, Nhung Nguyen

By Nhung Nguyen, Thanh Nguyen