Central Hanoi in between past and future

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The central area of Hanoi, which comprises the four downtown districts of Ba Dinh, Dong Da, Hai Ba Trung and Hoan Kiem, has not seen much development over the past few years, a contrast to the fast growth seen at other new urban areas in the capital city.

Modernizing central Hanoi while retaining its historic characteristics is no easy balancing act, Thanh Nien Weekly learns in this interview with Tran Ngoc Chinh, chairman of the Vietnam Association of Urban Planning and Development.

Thanh Nien Weekly: While new urban areas develop rapidly, central Hanoi hasn't made much headway. What do you think about this?

Tran Ngoc Chinh: According to the Hanoi master zoning plan, the city's central urban area, also known as the core area, is bounded by a beltway, Road No. 3. It is a traditional urban area.

Why hasn't this core area developed as rapidly as the five satellite areas surrounding it? It's because the core area took its initial shape thousands of years ago. Thus, development of the core has been carefully considered so as not to increase pressure on the area. The central urban area is now suffering major pressures in terms of traffic, water, electricity and environmental hygiene. Thus, Hanoi plans to reduce the number of residents in the central area to 800,000 from the current 1.2 million, by moving some 400,000 people to outer districts.

To this end, Hanoi is expected to move some universities, hospitals and state agencies outside the center. According to the plan, at least 20-40 percent of the city's students will be moved in the next 50 years.

Policies geared toward limiting population development in the center of the city will also not allow for the construction of high-rise buildings in the area, especially on historic streets.

Some factories, stores and bus stations such as Tran Hung Dao Mechanical Company, Dong Xuan Knitting Company and Hanoi Wine Company have been moved outside the center. The land they once occupied in the center could be used to build parks or public projects.

The core central area is being upgraded to guarantee its historicity, while also ensuring good urban design. Old buildings, which are degraded and dilapidated, will be taken down, while new buildings with green space below will be constructed. However, the buildings' height will be carefully considered.

Tran Ngoc Chinh, chairman of the Vietnam Association of Urban Planning and Development

Thus, the central urban area has not developed as rapidly as the new ones. We are focused on upgrading central urban areas, improving transport infrastructure, building more parks, and moving universities, factories and state agencies outside the center. However, the work will be done gradually.

But the relocation of some factories and universities has gone too slowly. Meanwhile, some residential buildings have been built in the place of factories that have just been moved outside the center. Does this make sense?

It is very important to create parks and entertainment areas in the city center. However, because of some financial issues, some investors have built residential buildings and stores next to these public projects.

However, the most important aspect is construction density. That means projects should set aside land for green space. The Hanoi plan does not support projects which use the most of their land for the construction of buildings. Thus, urban management is very important. Shopping malls can be built where factories used to stand, but the green space to building ratio should be carefully managed to guarantee that green space, such as parks, are created.

The tension between the preservation and upgrade of the core urban area is increasing. How should we deal with this issue?

The plan has very carefully considered the preservation of heritage. It has a chapter assessing all cultural and historical monuments in the city. We are upgrading the city under the plan, and implementing the preservation of heritage sites, such as pagodas and temples, under the Heritage Law.

We have not yet implemented all this effectively only because we do not have enough funds, or have yet to arrange for more funds.

The Hanoi plan you describe aims to reduce the population in the core urban area, and increase the populations in satellite areas. Are satellite urban areas attractive enough to lure people?

Each satellite urban area has its own function. For example, Hoa Lac is designed as a high technology area that will house the Hanoi National University and some other universities, and will serve as a new finance and service center. Thus, industrial parks, universities and institutes, students, teachers and staff will move there, bringing the place to life, and raising its population over the next 30-40 years.

What is the number-one priority for the development of the Hanoi core urban area?

We should upgrade infrastructure, especially transport systems. We should put a priority on developing public transport systems and car parks, and dealing with environmental issues, and growing more trees. Our Hanoi has too many traffic jams, and our streets are very dusty.

Thus, we need an overall plan for the issue that prioritizes developing infrastructure and moving industrial factories and universities outside the city center. However, we cannot do it in only two or three days. The work could take a long time, and needs a lot of money.

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