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Hanoi's foreigners weigh in on the future of the city

Hoan Kiem (Sword) Lake is among several lakes and parks in Hanoi that make the capital different from other cities in Vietnam.

Following the fanfare and hullaballoo of Hanoi's thousand year anniversary, Thanh Nien looked back on interviews with a number of the city's prominent foreigners to gather some perspective on the rapidly modernizing, ancient capital.

What would your ideal picture of Hanoi contain?

Photographer François CarletSoulages left France for Hanoi to settle down with a Vietnamese girl eight years ago. In 2008, he founded Noi Pictures Company:

- It would reflect a busy and bustling downtown street lined with half old, half new houses. The street would be crowded with many people, mostly youth, wearing fashionable clothes, driving trendy motorbikes, laughing and chatting. None of them would notice an old bent-backed woman, walking slowly, heavily amongst them.

Please do not misunderstand me. I love living in Hanoi. Being a part of the city, and witnessing the daily changes in the capital of a developing country is very interesting. Like a child, I am always curious to discover everything around me.

What you don't like about Hanoi?

Seako Ando, a Japanese ceramic artist, who chose Hanoi as her home 14 years ago:

- When we first came here, I felt Hanoi was a very small place. It was a capital city, yet it felt just like a village. At that time, Hanoi was not as crowded as it is today. Still, for me, Hanoi is very cute and quiet.

There are two things I dislike about Hanoi and Vietnam, in general. The first thing is the public toilets. The second is the complex, messy traffic. The jams consist of thousands of people struggling to do a million different things at once. "˜I have to go fast.' "˜I want to go this way.' It all just ends in congestion.

What can the city do to become a more livable place for foreigners?

Elliott Price moved to Hanoi five years ago and co-founded the open-source, online expat guide Newhanoian.com:

-"Improving public transportation is obviously a pressing issue for the city, and an example of an improvement that would benefit foreign residents without having to be specifically prioritized to address their concerns.

"My colleagues and I all hope to see improvements in the education system so that the locals can join the workforce in a more professional, competitive and international way. From my personal experience, I've found Vietnam's population young, smart and creative. But, so far, there is no guarantee that such potential can be realized without a clear, quality, high-caliber education.

What should the city do to achieve its goal of "rapid, sustainable development"?

Professor William S. Logan of Deakin University in Melbourne has spent more than 20 years studying Hanoi. His recent book "Hanoi, Biography of a City" has just been translated into Vietnamese:

- Hanoi is a wonderful city - one of the most unique places in Asia. That is why tourists come here. If it modernizes to become like other cities in the region, I am sure that Hanoi will be less attractive to tourists. What I find most startling is the push to turn Hanoi into a megalopolis. That impulse will lead to overload and could ultimately ruin the city's quality of life in the near future.

The city's development strategies should focus on what makes Hanoi different. Hanoi's development is not only related to economic issues but other factors as well, such as society and culture.

When developing countries begin to expand, people always become more interested in how to earn money than how to protect their living environment. And that thinking ultimately results in disaster and will be regretted by future generations.

What should the city ultimately seek to preserve as it moves forward?

Professor Michael Douglass, Global Research Center, Faculty of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Hawaii, USA:

- The key to a good city is good social environments. In my opinion, Hanoi is a Vietnamese city whose social environment is quite good.

I also found that the city's biggest problem nowadays is public space: the parks are threatened and being privatized.

Hanoi must choose its own development model, and to do so, the planners must answer this question: For whom was the city built?

For instance, many satellite cities are forming around Hanoi. How many houses in these cities will be for low-income people? How large will the public areas be?

My recommendation is to create good living conditions for the people of Hanoi. The planners pay attention to open space, public space and local culture. These are things that should be preserved by the locals rather than foreign companies.

Large-scale investors are not concerned with and tend to minimize or not include at all the construction of a public space because they do not profit from road, or park construction. Most of their so-called public spaces are actually private and exclusive.

What should Hanoi's future retail space look like?

Ph.D Michael Digregorio Urban planner at the University of Hawaii's Center for Globalization Studies:

- We know Hanoi has a policy of changing many traditional markets into supermarkets or shopping centers.

Why do people like me and many other architects in Hanoi worry about that? When the idea of conversion came out, many people said they were for it because the markets are unhygienic and smelly. So the answer must be to clean the markets!

There are many clean markets in the world. So there is no need to break down the markets and replace them with supermarkets.

The local market is not merely a place to buy and sell, but also a place for social gathering. Someone goes shopping in the market because they trust in the sellers, I buy fish from this one and then buy vegetables from others. From a human perspective, such personal relationships are so important. The more connections we lose, the lonelier and more isolated we become.

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