Does Ho Chi Minh City need new, shiny sidewalks to attract tourists?

By Nguyen Nga - Dinh Son, Thanh Nien News

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A granite sidewalk along Le Thanh Ton Street in Ho Chi Minh City's District 1. Photo: Diep Duc Minh A granite sidewalk along Le Thanh Ton Street in Ho Chi Minh City's District 1. Photo: Diep Duc Minh


A major plan to pave sidewalks in Ho Chi Minh City downtown with granite will be a waste of money, taking resources away from more pressing problems that the city should solve to attract tourists, experts have said. 
While many experts agree that all efforts to improve the city's image should be encouraged, they cannot support this particular plan, which will cost nearly VND1 trillion (US$44.8 million). 
“Giving the city a facelift is a right move. But spending that much on sidewalks in District 1 at this point is just like a poor family buying an expensive iPhone for their child,” said architect Ngo Viet Nam Son.
“HCMC is a developing city, and sidewalks will be dug up again and again to facilitate construction projects, and also when the cables are moved to underground," he said. "It will be a waste."
District 1 authorities announced last week that more than 130 streets will be given the granite treatment, saying the facelift will help draw more tourists. 
Starting next month, five main streets -- Dong Khoi, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Nguyen Thai Hoc, Phung Khac Khoan, and Cong Xa Paris -- will be repaved.
The private sector is expected to join the project, but the city will still have to tap its own budget for an undecided amount. 
Son said many cities abroad only have granite sidewalks at certain places such as busy financial and shopping areas. 
“District 1 should focus on repairing damaged sidewalks and only repave a few streets with high foot traffic,” he said.
Granite, though durable, is two to three times more expensive than other materials and its use should be considered carefully, he added.
Urgent problems
Architect Nguyen Ngoc Phuoc Dai of HCMC Institute for Development Studies said granite is not the right material for the city. 
Aesthetically the dark gray color does not suit the tropic city and granite will prevent the ground from absorbing water, which can worsen the city's flooding problem, Dai said. 
He said granite should only be used for Nguyen Hue, the city's only pedestrian street at the moment, and nearby streets. 
Tran Du Lich, a National Assembly member, said the city is facing many urgent problems that should be prioritized, particularly traffic congestion.
“For example, the fast-growing Thao Dien Area with many office and apartment buildings should have better roads linking District 1 and 2 because there are often traffic jams that last up to an hour,” he said.
Phan Dinh Hue, director of Viet Circle Tourism Company, said that paving sidewalks with granite is not a good way to bring in tourists.
“What tourists really need is a safe and clean destination. Cleaning the streets and improving security will help the city attract more visitors, and it also costs less money,” he said.
Nguyen Minh Dong, director of investment consulting company Devitec Consult, said the sidewalk upgrading plan is not practical at all.
“Residents in HCMC are facing flooding, pollution and traffic congestion. So instead of this expensive plan, the city should focus on such urgent issues first,” he said.

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