As Ho Chi Minh City hurries to make final preparations for its first pedestrian-only street, some experts start to wonder if Nguyen Hue is really the right place for it.
With only a few more days to go before the grand opening of the walkway on April 20, what they say now probably won't matter much, but it indicates the city could have gone with more pleasing options.
Architect Ngo Viet Son said the city authorities might have been too hasty in launching a walking street to celebrate the upcoming April 30 Reunification Day and did not think carefully about long-term issues.
“At first glance Nguyen Hue is similar to a walking street in Shanghai, but it's actually very different. The Nanjing street in Shanghai is specialized in trading and services, while Nguyen Hue has mostly office towers and hotels.”
Several other experts concurred that the city should have chosen Bui Vien -- a famous street in the city’s backpacker area -- for a walking street.
According to Son, Nguyen Hue and nearby streets have high-rise buildings with insufficient parking lots.
“The walking street will worsen the dearth when visitors have no parking space to visit the area,” he said.
Nguyen Thanh Lam, an overseas Vietnamese who has traveled extensively, said any pedestrianization plan should not affect existing businesses on the street and the traveling of locals.
Robert Tran, an investment consultant, said he often meets his customers in offices on Nguyen Hue.
“With the scorching sun and temperature reaching 40 Celsius degrees sometimes, I already feel tired after walking for a short distance,” he said.
Nguyen Hue should only ban vehicles after 6 p.m. to avoid traffic gridlocks in the center, he said.
Nguyen Hue, at the heart of District 1, will officially become a walking street on April 20. Workers are currently rushing to repave the street, build fountains and plant new trees on the street in the city center, which has been frequently turned into a Flower Street during Lunar New Year festivals.
Architect Son said HCMC authorities should make other streets pedestrian-friendly or exclusively for walking. Even Dong Khoi would be a much better choice, despite its proximity to Nguyen Hue, he said.
Tourists stroll down the Bui Vien Street in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Doc Lap
“Dong Khoi is good for a walking street, with many shops, malls, cafés and other services. Large trees on the sidewalks make it comfortable for pedestrians to walk.”
“Meanwhile, Bui Vien also satisfy all criteria for a walking street with shops, services and sidewalk eateries,” he said.
Lam, the overseas Vietnamese, agreed that Bui Vien should have been turned into a walking street because it is being used by many pedestrians.
“As the first step, the city could convert it into a one way street and control the speed to avoid dangers for pedestrians, especially from 6 p.m. until late,” he said.
A HCMC-based urban planner, who wanted to remain unnamed, said the city authorities actually thought about making Bui Vien a vehicle-free street ten years ago.
“This westerners’ neighborhood has so many vehicles threatening the safety of a high number of tourists. Why didn’t the city authorities turn it into a walking street?”