Chi Lang Park, one of Ho Chi Minh City's historic sites / PHOTO COURTESY OF TBKTSG
A Vietnamese-French urban research agency has found that at least 207 heritage buildings in downtown Ho Chi Minh City have been destroyed or defaced in the last decade.
Dr Fanny Quertamp Nguyen, director of the Center for Prospective and Urban Studies (PADDI), an agency set up by Rhône – Alpes Region and HCMC, said only 96 have been preserved.
A survey by French and Vietnamese experts in 1993 had determined that 377 structures in Districts 1 and 3 were heritage sites.
Tim Doling, a cultural expert who has written books on Vietnam and its historic assets, said during the last six months, while waiting for his guidebook on the city’s historic sites to be published, he had to remove five buildings from his list because they were gone.
PADDI’s report shocked Vietnamese experts at a conference held recently by Thoi bao Kinh te Sai Gon (Saigon Times) newspaper.
Le Quang Ninh of the Vietnam Association of Architects said he was aware that many old houses were recently destroyed in the city center for the construction of new buildings, but his estimate of the loss had been much lower.
He said it is “alarming” that more than 56 percent of historic structures are gone.
Luu Trong Hai, a former deputy chief architect of the city, expressed sorrow, saying that old houses in Districts 1 and 3 are part of “the city’s soul” and its cultural and historic assets because they reflect the city’s development.
Heritage versus profits
Ton Nu Thi Ninh, a former vice chairwoman of the National Assembly's Foreign Affairs Committee, cited the razing of three old buildings for the construction of Vincom, a major shopping mall, in District 1 in 2011 as an example of the fact that economic profits are prioritized.
It is necessary to have a “strong” legal framework for the preservation of historic sites to prevent similar occurrences in future, she said.
To Kien, an architect who graduated from the Singapore University of Technology and Design, said many countries face a similar dilemma of preservation or development, and the best way is to achieve a balance between modernization and preservation, even if that means slower economic growth.
Doling said an important rule of preservation is to satisfy the community’s demand, meaning authorities have to allow owners of historic sites to earn money from their properties.
He said each historic construction work in the city has stories behind it, and if people know how to make use of these stories to attract tourists, they would be able to earn money from the heritage sites.
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