In Vietnam hub, new urban area construction accused of destroying history

By Luong Chanh Tong, Thanh Nien News

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Dr. Bui Chi Hoang surveys the construction site of Thu Thiem New Urban Area, where numerous relics have been found, in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City’s cultural authorities are looking into ways to save relics that are being destroyed by the construction of a new urban area, but scientists say they cannot have their cake and eat it too.
The city Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism decided to look into the matter more than one month after work on the Thu Thiem New Urban Area was launched in District 2. The 737-hectare (1822-acre) area was planned to become a new hub for the city, including part of the municipal administration.
Last week, an inspection team from the department reviewed the construction site, and found that relics had been excavated and also destroyed on a massive scale.
The relics, including hundreds of ceramic items from Vietnam, China, France, and the Cham civilization, were believed to be related to old works like a seaport, shipyards, and residential areas that had at various times taken up in the land in the nearly-400-year history of the city.
The department then asked scientists to take a look at the site and advise it on how to save the relics, so it could send a report to the city People’s Committee, the municipal administration.
However, Dr. Bui Chi Hoang, a member of the National Council for Cultural Heritage, which consults the Prime Minister on heritage-related matters and one of the invited scientists, told Thanh Nien News that: “It is probably too difficult to save the relics now.”
According to the scientists, the only solution is to suspend construction so a full and proper excavation can take place.
But, they were worried that would be impossible, given that the site covers thousands of square meters (one square meter is equivalent to 10.8 square feet), meaning that it would be difficult to get funds for the massive excavation and that the excavation would take a long time, delaying construction indefinitely.
Hoang suggested the department send officials to collect relics at the site and take photos of the site so that they restore them later.
It was a pity that the Thu Thiem project was launched without the consultation of scientists, he said.
New hub
HCMC’s central administrative area will be expanded east to Thu Thiem, according to a master zoning plan just issued by the municipal government.
The city’s current central administrative area comprises of districts 1, 3 and parts of districts 4 and Binh Thanh, with a total area of 930 hectares (2,300 acres).
Under the master plan, the city will add the 737-hectare 737-hectare (1822-acre) Thu Thiem New Urban Area in District 2 to its central area.
The plan also envisages four auxiliary centers for the city, towards the east (District 9’s Long Truong Ward, which borders the HCMC-Long Thanh-Dau Giay Highway), the south (South Saigon New Urban Area), the north (West-North New Urban Area) and the west (the area which borders National Highway 1 in Binh Chanh District’s Tan Kien Commune).
Under the plan, the municipal government said conservation areas in the Can Gio Biosphere Reserve in Can Gio District and protected forests in Binh Chanh and Cu Chi districts must be left untouched.
The plan estimates that HCMC will have around 10 million people by 2025, of whom 9.5 million will live in urban areas and the rest in rural areas. The estimation excludes around 2.5 million nonresidents.
The population in suburban areas will be around 2.6-3 million, with the rest living inside the city’s more urban areas.
The plan divides the city into five regions: an urban development region, an industrial development region, an ecological and tourism development region, an agricultural region and a nature conservation region.
As for transport, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has approved the city’s plans to build the Thu Thiem Tunnel 2, which will run underneath the Saigon River, 14 new bridges over the Saigon River, Binh Khanh Bridge over the Nha Be River and Phuoc Khanh Bridge over the Long Tau River.
In 2011, the first underwater tunnel (the Thu Thiem Tunnel), which runs underneath the Saigon River, in HCMC opened to traffic. The Thu Thiem Tunnel connects the existing urban center of the city with Thu Thiem New Urban Area in District 2.

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