Sword Lake being put to the sword

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The Hanoi administration has approved a project by the Vietnam Electrical Equipment Corporation (VEC) to build department stores, hotels and offices for lease near Ho Hoan Kiem (Sword Lake).

People are wondering how many years are left until the lake will be fully besieged by concrete buildings.

Located right at the heart of Hanoi, Sword Lake and the park surrounding is a prime piece of real estate. Businesses located there have the potential to reap huge profits in the buzzing center of town.

There has long been an underground war in which businesspeople and agencies have battled one another for a chance to own a piece of the highly sought-after property.

Despite how hard historians, the media, Hanoians and others who love Hanoi have tried to protect the lake from further construction projects, they are no match for the greed that grows bigger and bigger each day.

Whenever the public objects to a construction project around the lake, a new one suggested by another agency always emerges.

Several years ago, a five-story commercial center was constructed. The public opposed severely and they now call the building "Shark Jaw." The city partially bowed to public opposition and some adjustments were made to the front of the building. It still looks like a jaw, but only God knows which type of fish the jaw belongs to.

An American historian I know said it looked like the tail of a cruise ship leaving a wake.

People had expected the city to replace the modern building with something more traditional to match with the historic atmosphere of the local landscape. But they were disappointed.

The Shark Jaw building is not the only one of its kind. Afterwards, another construction project called "the Golden Hanoi Building" was born and, again, faced similar opposition. The project was then suspended and replaced by another huge concrete block the Bao Viet Group Building.

The area around the lake is uglier than it has ever been. Some agencies and individuals only care about short-term profits, ignoring the spiritual and historic values of the lake. And it's the city as a whole that suffers.

Another high rise is now under construction and it looks like the long crane at the site is going to crush the small lakeside restaurant below.

Last year, the city organized a competition to choose a zoning initiative for the lake. Nine initiatives were honored and all of them emphasized the need to preserve the landscape around the lake.

"We should not waste the space around the lake but we absolutely must not treat the space brutally," said Nguyen Tan Van, head of the Vietnam Architects' Association.

"The lake's bank is encircled by construction works but the initiatives all aimed to create an airy, open and wide space for the lake."

However, the competition and its results seem to have fallen into oblivion as the city has accepted the VEC project and ignored the warnings of many architects and experts who protested.

A deputy head of the Hanoi's Department of Zoning and Architecture said the project was "reasonable" as many higher buildings already existed around the lake such as the 9-story Vinafood and 15-story Tungshin. The VEC building is eight stories.

It's sad to see that the precedent of building large monstrosities around the lake has been set.

If this precedent is "well practiced," Sword Lake will eventually be surrounded by a "Great Wall" of concrete buildings.

Every nation has its own "sacred space" to show the world about its culture and history. France has chosen a stretch of the Seine River to be its spiritual area where places such as the Élysée Palace and the Notre Dame de Paris are located and there is no high rise building in sight.

There is still a lot of zoning to do in order to protect Sword Lake and authorities should be careful when licensing any construction projects nearby.

Sword Lake should and must be a place where locals and tourists gather for festivals, cultural events and community activities. It should not be the place where people look for hotel rooms or wander Gucci and Louis Vuitton stores.

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