Posts Tagged ‘vietnam’

International Symposium: Hanoi 2030

Hanoi 2030: International Symposium

Hanoi 2030: International Symposium

As if working on the 1st Report for the Hanoi master plan was not enough, between our reports to the Vietnam government steering committee and the Prime Minister, we held a 2-day international symposium April 21-22.

The main goal of the symposium was to gain a better understanding of Hanoi within a global context, by inviting prominent international experts and scholars who have studied or worked in Hanoi to provide their opinions on how Hanoi could develop through to 2030. These in turn would be reflected in the master plan the project I am working on is developing.

The key objectives and expectations were:

  • Invite international experts and knowledge leaders who have experience working in Hanoi/Vietnam to present their expertise and global perspective for the future development of Hanoi;
  • Identify potentials, drivers and assets that may shape Hanoiís future;
  • Discuss long-term goals and objectives for the sustainable development of Hanoi.

The main themes of the symposium were:

  • Heritage Preservation
  • Social Development
  • Hanoi and Environmentally Sustainable Future
  • Peri-urban Agriculture & Food Security
  • Issues of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Urban Management
  • Urban Challenges of Sustaining Economic Growth

The speakers were:

  • Jeremy CAREW-REID, Director, International Centre for Environmental Management
  • Michael DIGREGORIO, Ford Foundation (Vietnam) – program officer – Education and Scholarship; Media, Arts and Culture
  • Sylvie FANCHETTE, Geographer, Research Institute for Development (IRD)
  • Ana FIRMINO, Center of Studies for Geography and Regional Planning, Assistant Professor at New University of Lisbon
  • Shizuo IWATA, Director, ALMEC Corporation
  • Richard LEECH, Executive Director, CB Richard Ellis, Hanoi
  • Laurent PANDOLFI, Co-director, IMV
  • Christian PEDELAHORE, Docteur en Architecture. Architecte DPLG – Urbaniste SMUH
  • Paul SCHUTTENBELT, Planner/Governance expert, Urban Solutions
  • Leo VAN DEN BERG, Alterra Green World Research, The Netherlands
  • Michael WAIBEL, Senior Lecturer Department of Economic Geography, Hamburg University
  • Lawrie WILSON, Director of International Projects, Hansen Partnership

The symposium was closed to the public and limited to invited participants only, but we had a strong turnout and at one point the hall which sat about 200 was filled up. I played the part of moderator, with a list of questions prepared for our speakers in case the audience was not being responsive. Thankfully I did not need to ask too many questions.

Hanoi 2030: International Symposium

The general opinion from the experts were that Hanoi is a unique city, however it is in danger of losing these qualities if they are not properly protected through good planning, management and policies, enforcement of regulation and development of its assets. Of course these opinions were expected since I personally interviewed and invited the speakers who could support our goals and objectives of establishing a sustainable Hanoi. But all these experts had years of experience working in Hanoi, and it was apparent from their presentations and discussions that they truly loved Hanoi as much as the Vietnamese and this was the reason they continue to work in Hanoi and Vietnam. It’s not easy for an outsider to adopt a city, but in the case of these experts it was clear that they thought it worth their work and life to make the choice to stay.

I was left questioning, how many cities in Asia elicits such a dedication from the international community? Hanoi does seems to be in the spotlight these days, being the venue to many international conferences.

Hanoi: the first sustainable capital by 2030

Hanoi Master Plan: 1st Report

Hanoi master plan 2030: first report to the Vietnamese government

I’ve spent the most part of the March and April preparing the first formal report to the Vietnamese government for the project I am working on for JINA Architects: The Hanoi Capital Construction Master Plan to 2030 and Vision to 2050. This is a project to establish a urban master plan for Hanoi to 2030, covering some 3345 km2. Just to put this area into perspective, it is 2 times the size of Greater London and 5 times the size of Seoul.

The report schedule ended up being pretty grueling:

April 13: Pre-presentation of the 1st Report to the Ministry of Construction
April 18: 1st Report to the Vietnamese Government Steering Committee chaired by the Vice Prime Minister
April 21-22: International Symposium: Hanoi 2030
April 24: Presentation of the 1st Report to the Government Standing Committee which included the Prime Minister, 5 Vice Prime Ministers, Cabinet and chairman of the Hanoi People’s Committee.

The project is ambitious and close to impossible given the timeframe of 1 year. We started in January, and we are expected to submit our final deliverables at the end of the 2009 with 3 intermediate reports in April, July and October. After submission there will be a period of appraisal and if all is well, we should have approval in mid-2010 ahead of Hanoi’s 1000-year celebrations which are slated for October 10, 2010. (Oct 10 being a play on “1010” which is when Hanoi or Thang Long as it was called then was established)

Capital Master Plan: A Nation’s Vision

A project of this scope is not really a urban planning or engineering project so much as a political, national vision project. Each nation’s capital is a statement of the nation’s philosophical inclinations. Washington DC represents the ideals upon which the US was founded. Seoul embodies, like it or not, the breakneck economic growth and now the technological innovations that are driving the nation. A city is always a sum of collective decisions whether they were good one of back ones, or none. So some capitals don’t have a clear direction which may be a negative reflection of that nation’s lack of leadership.

So what does Hanoi want to be? We propose it can be: The First Sustainable Capital. Ambitious? Yes. But if you understand that this is political/national philosophy project and not an engineering project, having a strong vision that the leadership can bring to the people is important.

Hanoi and Sustainability

Ideas of sustainability is not a foreign concept to Vietnam. The national motto is: Freedom, Independence and Happiness. Vietnam fought hard to maintain these values in the various wars throughout its history with China, France and most recently against the US. So sustaining their way of life and independence has been a central philosophy all along.

What we proposed was that Hanoi needs to expand the ideas of sustainability to embody all 4 pillars of sustainability: economic, environmental, social and cultural sustainability.

The first, economic is obvious. Vietnam has had a breathtaking growth. It went from a starving population just 10 years ago to becoming #2 rice exporter, #2 coffee exporter and #1 cashew nut exporter. The economy is strong so it is important to ensure that this growth continues. Vietnam has 2 major cities: Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) and Hanoi. The Mekong Delta and HCMC is more of the industrial base of the nation. The 2 cities need to clearly identify roles. In Hanoi, industry should be promoted, but needs to transition to a knowledge-based industry. This is more becoming of the capital, where administration, cultural and higher education should be promoted.

Environmental sustainability is obviously important. The Asia Development Bank (ADB) sees Vietnam will be one of the counties that will be most affected by rising sea-levels as a direct result of climate change. Hanoi and HCMC are both in delta areas, which would mean that they will be hardest hit. Also water and air pollution, are major concerns, since waste water and industrial waste in Hanoi is hardly treated, and heavy motorcycle traffic is having a negative impact on air quality.

Social and cultural sustainability is less obvious. In the case of Seoul, since the 60’s economic growth has trumped all other aspects, and in the process, cultural and historic heritage were irretrievably lost. It is only recently that there are attempts to belated recover these assets. But what is once lost is manyfold harder to recover. Hanoi has such rich heritage, that was unintentionally relatively well-preserved due to the war and economic stagnation that followed. Hanoi has Chinese, French, Soviet and Vietnamese heritage and influences all in one city. The scale French colonial urban structure and colonial-style villas makes for a very interesting european city, while the Old Quarter makes for a uniquely Vietnamese experience all within walking distance of each other.

It’s apparent that Vietnam, given its economy, cannot invest in preserving its cultural assets as much as more developed nations. But what it can do is protect until it can discover and develop them.

Main concepts

Our methodology is based first on an assessment of the current conditions of Hanoi, then identifying the unique assets and potentials of Hanoi, then establishing a strategic framework to develop these assets while mitigating the challenges, applying international best practices adapted to the unique conditions in Hanoi. Pretty straight forward.

The analysis of the current conditions shows that there are many challenges that Hanoi needs to overcome. Traffic congestion, transportation, flooding, uncontrolled urban development, housing, new administration center are to name just some of the high priority issues.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing the plan on finding solutions for these challenges. However if you look beyond, you realize that Hanoi and Vietnam has many assets that need to be protected, discovered and developed. The numerous cultural and historic sites in and around Hanoi need to be protected, and the way of life in the numerous craft villages outside Hanoi’s urban core need to be maintained to the degree possible.

Agricultural land protection

Most important, high-productivity agricultural land needs to be protected. It is easy to overlook this issue. Many countries including Korea made the decision to convert its agricultural land for urban use. The Philippines also made a similar decision and, in a simplistic way, this is how it went from being a rice exporter to now the world’s biggest rice importer with Vietnam being a major exporter of rice to the Philippines. Given the growing urban population and uncontrolled development, this is indeed a clear danger for Vietnam also.

At its heart, it more a matter of principle than practicality. It would nice to have a good portion of the food resources needed for Hanoi to be cultivated and provided for from nearby farms, however this is not at all practical, given the projected population growth, and its appetite for new land for housing, industrial and commercial use. Also given how labor intensive it is to cultivated rice crops, it doesn’t make economic sense for the small-scale rice farms to try to supply Hanoi.

What’s more crucial is how the land is converted to non-agricultural use: High productivity agricultural land should be identified and only low productivity agricultural land be converted. If this principle is enforced in the capital, it should have a ripple effect on all the other cities in Vietnam which are growing and facing the same issue of land conversion. This will establish a principle that values agricultural land as a national principle and security. Not many countries around the world has the luxury or security of being able to feed its whole population from home grown produce. This is one asset that Vietnam should fight to protect and Hanoi can set the standard. Not many countries are a leader in anything. Vietnam should maintain its lead in agriculture as a matter of national priority, and work to build up other areas such as industry and technology to the same level.

Green Corridor

So how to achieve these goals and principles in an economically and environmentally sustainable way? Based on the current conditions, in order to establish a sustainable growth strategy, our main concept is centered around the establishment of the Green Corridor of Hanoi to the west of the previous Hanoi’s urban core. The Green Corridor follows the flood plains either side of the Day and Tich Rivers.

The idea of Green Corridor is fundamentally different from a green belt. A green belt is static and strictly controlled. However a green corridor is more flexible in that it allows for certain “green” activities to occur through maintaining many levels of protection. Protection can range from strict control to “conservation-based development” which accommodates pre-existing craft villages to function. The Green Corridor also moves to protect the high productivity agricultural land that exists around the Day and Tich River flood plains.

The Green Corridor will also function in much the same way a green belt does in Seoul or London in establishing a boundary around the urban areas to control uncontrolled urban sprawl development. This will give satellite cities the opportunity to develop in a more competitive and compact way and
allow the depopulation of the current Hanoi center and give public transportation a chance to function as it links the new urban centers with the old. The big added benefit of course is the open green space for future generations to enjoy.

With the Green Corridor acting as an anchor, so called “innovation clusters” can be developed to tap new potential and opportunities in eco-tourism, high-tech agriculture and cross-functional cultural-education-technology activity zones.

The biggest challenge for all this is the 700+ approved projects in Hanoi in various stages of planning and implementation speckled around the whole area. Currently all these projects have been put on hold pending the approval of master plan. Negotiating, accommodating or even canceling some of these projects which have strong vested political interests will be hardest part of the plan. Now that we have proposed the general framework for development, more details on how to reconcile the plan with the existing projects is what the next stage and the next report in July will have to address.

For now I’m glad that the 1st Report is over. According to official Vietnamese press sources, it seems to have been a successful presentation. But we still have a very steep uphill battle all the way for the rest of the project. I guess it’s always like this.

A few notes

This project/presentation is a team effort. I am currently the project director, which means I herd the cats. I coordinate our JINA team in Seoul and Hanoi and liaise with our consortium partners, Perkins Eastman (PE) and Posco e&c as well as our Vietnamese counterparts. The presentation was prepared by our team members in Seoul, Hanoi and New York, and was presented by Bradford Perkins (“Mr. Perkins” in Perkins Eastman Architects), Paul Buckhurst (PE), and Eliot Bu (my boss and friend at JINA).

Go team!

Hanoi Master Plan: 1st Report

JINA Architects: Eliot Bu (Co-CEO), Do Yeon Kim
(Co-CEO) and Nam-ho Park (that’s me)

  Hanoi Master Plan: 1st Report

PE & JINA Team: Paul, Do Yeon, Jaida,
Brad Perkins and Young

Hanoi Master Plan: 1st Report

2 Brains: Paul Buckhurst (PE)
and Prof. Young Bum Reigh

  Hanoi Master Plan: 1st Report

JINA Hanoi crew: Deok Ho Kim
and Soo Youn Choi

The walkable Hanoi: a half-day tour

A half-day walk through Hanoi

A half-day walk through Hanoi

Hanoi is a walkable city.

You would never know this with all the traffic overflowing in the streets. Of course the locals will prefer to ride their scooters. It’s actually dangerous to cross the streets when you are overwhelmed by bicycle motorcycle, automobiles and bus traffic coming from all directions, with traffic signals and traffic lines ignored most of the time.

But the scale, the tree-lined streets, and the distance between landmarks do lend itself to a leisurely stroll. Deep down inside you know Hanoi is in fact a very walkable city, it just forgotten it for a while. Recovering this aspect will be something that will be key to making more tourist friendly and a more of an attractive destination.

Here’s one of my favorite walks, if you have a half day to spare:

1. Opera. Start preferably after lunch at the Highlands Cafe next to the Opera. Nothing like a good coffee to start the tour. My personal favorite from their menu is Mango Mania. The Opera was built at the turn of the 20th century by the French colonists modeled on Garnier’s Opera in Paris. Crossing the road is a real challenge for the first time visitor. Just remember to walk slowly and predictably (whatever you do, do not run) so that the traffic can be aware of your presence in the street. Once you cross the road, walk down Trang Tien street towards the Hoan Kiem lake. This historic street has many bookstores that have good materials in English and maps of Hanoi and Vietnam.


2. Hoan Kiem Lake. The undisputed spiritual heart of Hanoi. The name means the The Lake of the Returned Sword and legend has it that emperor Le Loi was handed a magic sword by a tortoise here that brought him victory against the Chinese Ming Dynasty. The walk around its periphery is one the more calm experiences in Hanoi if you can mentally block out the noise. Once you make the a 3/4 circle, cut back up Hang Trong and then down Nha Tho to face the cathedral.

3. St. Joseph’s Cathedral. A scale-down replica of the Notre Dame in Paris completed in 1886. The streets around the cathedral have attractive boutiques, souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes and is one of the more gentrified, tourist friendly parts of town. If you already feeling tired, drop by the Moca Cafe. For those seeking exotic home furnishings, Mosaique Boutique provides interesting buys. When you are ready to move on, take the alley to the right of the cathedral and make you way down Phu Doan towards Hoa Lo Prison/Hanoi Towers.

4. Hoa Lo Prison. AKA The Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War (or the American War as the call in here) incarcerated downed fighter and bomber pilots and crew. It was famous for being the POW home of Senator John McCain, and Pete Peterson who later became the first US ambassador to Vietnam since the US resumed diplomatic ties with Vietnam in 1997.

5. Hanoi Towers. A large part of the Hoa Lo Prison was demolished to make way for the Hanoi Towers. At 25 stories, it was the tallest building in Hanoi when it was completed in the late 90’s. You can stop the tour here, and finish at another Highlands Cafe for some refreshments. You can also go to the 4th Floor of the residential tower to a restaurant called “Jaspa’s” and order their famous Bun Cha.

6. Quan An Ngon. What’s a walking tour without a dining destination to motivate you. This one is well worth the walk. Housed in a spacious French-style Villa, which I was told used to be owned by a wealthy Vietnamese doctor, now is the venue for a very reasonably priced restaurant that serves glorified “street food”. A favorite for both Vietnamese and visitors alike, you should try to go beyond the familiar spring rolls. It will be a rewarding experience.

Hanoi and its love of motorcycles


Motorcycles in Hanoi

This is a complex issue.

The first thing that overwhelms you when you arrive in Hanoi for the first time is the motorcycles. The noise. The chaos. They are everywhere. And remember to look both ways before crossing the street.

Sitting in a car in stuck in morning rush hour traffic I looked around. The motorcycles densely surrounded my car. It was like looking at sand filling the gaps between the stones. This was ultra-high traffic density.


From a Western point-of-view motorcycle as the main (and sometimes only) mode of transportation for Hanoi seems like a bad idea. It still freaks me out to see kids squeezed between parent or even babies carried in the mother’s arms being transported on motorcycles. The sound and air pollution they create is also at alarming levels.

But suspend those automobile-centric, environmental-conscious biases aside for a second. Pound-for-pound, no matter how you justify it cars are a more inefficient means of transportation, since 95 percent of the mass being accelerated is the car, not the driver, less than 1 percent of the fuel energy ultimately moves the driver. Motorcycles are indeed much more efficient people movers. And what’s more, more motorcycles will fit into a square meter of road.

I don’t have any data to back this up, but it is my hypothesis that motorcycles have played a major part as work horses in the amazing economic development of Vietnam and Hanoi. And they continue to do so, busily transporting millions each day, like blood cells transporting oxygen, in a city that has infrastructure lagging way behind the speed of development. It’s what makes Hanoi function.

The western or developed world gut-reaction is to get rid of it. But ask any Hanoian and they’ll say it is an indispensable part of their life. Khoi, my friend has a car (Kia Morning) and a motorcycle. He uses the car once a week to visit his in-laws with his family. But day-to-day, he uses his motorcycle to go to work and to meetings.


So there is no chance that Hanoians will give up their love with motorcycles.

Why try? Look back 5 years and there were less motorcycles and even less cars. Look forward 5 years and you see a city that will fall into cardiac arrest, as the population of Hanoi increases, maintaining 80% or more motorcycle ridership and the increase of cars will cause the road network to become paralyzed. The pollution is becoming a major issue and compound that to the inefficiencies in the economy will stunt whatever progress that Hanoi has made since 1986 Doi Moi, which opened Vietnam up to a market-driven economy.

This does not bode well for the Government, according to Ordinance on Hanoi Capital (No. 29/2000/PL-UBTVQH10 of December 28, 2000), wants to make Hanoi:

the heart of the whole country, making it more and more beautiful, civilized and modern; to inherit and promote the age-old historical and cultural traditions of Thang Long – Hanoi, contributing to building the country more beautiful and prosperous;

So what to do? The solution cannot come from thinking about the current conditions. Nor is it a stick and carrot issue. It requires thinking outside the box, literally.

It needs an integrated, multifaceted approach: As the population of Hanoi grows, there needs to be a plan to locate a large part of that population outside the inner core to satellite towns.

  • Locate new population centers with density. It is important to alleviate the population density in the inner city. Make new town outside the existing Hanoi far enough for the inhabitant to consider public transportation as an attractive option. Make those new towns dense enough to make public transportation viable.
  • Create an efficient rapid transit system from outskirts to inner city. Bringing in commuters from the new towns in an efficient manner is important in establishing a strong relationship between the new and old town centers.
  • Promote bus transfer in inner city. Once inside the old city, allowing for easy bus transfer to finish the commute.
  • Promote walkability. New Yorkers will walk 10 minutes to a subway station. So will Seoulites. How far can you get in 10 minutes? I walked from Hanoi Towers to St. Joseph’s Cathedral in that time. This is including the time crossing the streets, which can sometimes be hairy.

The critical factor here is financing and timing. All these strategies need to be executed concurrently since they are dependent on each other.

Let Hanoians keep their motorcycles, but provide them with a good or better option. That’s the only way out of this jam it seems.

Postcards from Central Vietnam

Old Town, Hoi An

Old Town, Hoi An, Vietnam

I took a weekend trip to central Vietnam a few weeks ago. We arrived in Da Nang and took a taxi south to Hoi An. Hoi An seems to be known for 2 things: beach resorts and its Old Town designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. Maybe I was tired after spending the previous 2 weeks charretting on the project I am currently working on, but I was a bit disappointed by what I saw. The architecture was nice, but it seems like one big souvenir shop. Every building was selling some kind of “cultural artifact”. Is this what happens when a place gets designated a Heritage site?

Talking this weekend to Michael Waibel, a prominent socio-geographer who has been working in Vietnam for over 10 years, he told me that before it had the designation, it was just another disintegrating town, and at least now the locals have an income and finances to restore and revitalize the area. However I begin to wonder what is it we are preserving? What is the point of preservation?

This is what UNESCO has to say about the matter in its Historic Districts for All: a Social and Human Approach for Sustainable Revitalization, a manual for revitalizing historic districts:

Cultural urban heritage related the history of the city, its inhabitants, religions and social and cultural transformations. This heritage is deeply anchored in the spatial and economic structure of the cities, their buildings and monuments. The people living and working in the city identify with it. Today, historic districts are symbols of the city’s image; above and beyond their own cultural value they fulfill an important mission in modern urban development: they create the identity and the city’s image and are key geographic factors for the local and regional economy.

Old Town, Hoi An
My Son

So the “why” in historic district preservation and revitalization seems to be rooted in a sense of identity for the local inhabitants. But the over-commercialization and the sales of mass-produced cultural artifacts you can now find homogeneously across Vietnam seems to go counter to that sense of local identity. Local crafts traditions are lost in place of what tourist will want buy. Is there a way to balance local identity with its economic sustainability? I had more questions than answers, and felt a little robbed.

Next day was My Son My son is Hindu temple complex constructed by the Champa civilization between 7th and 14th centuries, then abandoned and lost for centuries and only rediscovered by the French army in the late 19th century.

My Son is also a UNESCO Heritage site, but in stark contrast to Hoi An, My Son was relatively deeserted. The guide told me that in peak season, they get as many as a thousand visitor a day. That doesn’t seem a lot. In a well-rehearsed guide talk, he showed us on a map all the regions destroyed by US bombing during the Vietnam War. Apparently about 80% of the existing complex were lost during the carpet bombing raids.

Marble Mountain, Da Nang
Marble Mountain, Da Nang

On the way to Hu?, we stopped by the Marble Mountain in Da Nang. Don’t believe the guide when he tells you there’s only a hundred some steps to the summit. After we reached what perceived to be the top with nice temples, but he lead us rock climbing through naturally formed caves to the actual top. Ok for me but not ok for my boss who is fit for his age but close to 70. Nice view at the summit, but not worth the extreme physical effort for the benefit of our sadistic guide. What was more impressive was the huge natural caves that were used as a Viet Cong as a hospital until it was bombed. But it’s hard to know what to believe without the facts.

There are 2 way to get to Hu? from Da Nang. Through or boring tunnel or over the scenic Hai Van Pass. Our driver asked us what we wanted to do. Not having researched this fact, we elected thankfully for the Pass. Only tourists and joyriders seem to take the pass – everyone else takes the tunnel. Joyriders here are usually kids on motorcycles. We witnessed one accident where 2 kids on a motorcycles took a turn too fast and skidded out of control. Bike was damaged but the riders seemed ok.

Citadel, Hue

Citadel, Hu?, Vietnam

Hu? was the imperial capital of Vietnam during the Nguy?n Dynasty between 1802 and 1945.

Royal Tombs, Hue
Royal Tombs, Hue

It wasn’t intended that way, but we ended up doing all three UNESCO Heritage site in Central Vietnam, the Citadel in Hu? being the last one. The Citadel is a sizable complex apparently modeled in part after the Forbidden City in Beijing, but only a scaled-down version, a fraction of its size.

We took a trip down the Perfume River to visit a few of the Imperial tombs. The most interesting of which was the tomb of the short-lived Emperor Kh?i ??nh (1885-1925). His was built of cement that had weathered pretty badly, now almost dark grey or black in some places. He was a francophile and the interior was constructed from a mosaic of broken French ceramics, and took 17 years to construct. Sadly for him, it was not completed before his death.

At this point, I was so exhausted that I stopped registering any new information and just mechanically took photographs. Still some came out pretty nicely. Check out the rest of the Da Nang, Hoi An, Hue Flickr photos set.