Planning alone won’t ease urban burden

VietNamNet Bridge – Some two weeks ago, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc himself weighed in on a high-profile apartment building complex planned in the capital by a leading real estate developer. He expressed objections to Ha Noi’s greenlighting of this project, in particular, as well as its “haphazard” approval of many similar projects. He ordered both Ha Noi and HCM City to review and enhance control of high-rise projects as soon as possible.


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Construction in the Pham Hung-Ton That Thuyet area of Ha Noi City. — Photo Thai Ha/VNS

The neck-breaking urbanisation process in Viet Nam is indeed exerting enormous pressure on the urban centres to which people - many of them climate-change migrants - flock in large numbers. Experts argue that planning, alone, won’t save cities from this overload.

In 1990, the country had some 500 urban areas and an urbanisation rate of 19.5 per cent. Thirty years on, these figures have risen to 800 and 36.6 per cent, respectively.

This rapid but poorly managed process has created persistent headaches for authorities and nuisance for urban dwellers – floodings and congestion in the two metropolises Ha Noi and HCM City are cases in point.

Hardly has a new road been finished when developers are already squeezing housing projects into the newly available plots that line it, straining traffic capacity.

Recently, public concern was raised over an apartment building complex in the Giang Vo area of the capital, just west of the city’s central tourism area.

It would not be much of a story if the environs of the complex were sparsely populated, however streets there are already crowded, even paralysed during rush hours. Therefore, it’s not hard to see traffic jamming further once the buildings are populated.

Residential density

Laws and regulations determine the area of each floor in an apartment building. However, while many high-rise buildings meet the area criterion, they skirt the limitation by densely populating each floor.

“20,000 people moving into a building is a whole different story than 10,000 people,” Ngo Trung Hai, Director of Viet Nam Institute of Urban and Rural Planning (VIUP), said.

“Residential density is a key component in infrastructure planning. Density of 500-700 people per hectare is already too high, the ideal density is below 500,” Hai explained.

Hai suggested that investors compromise. For example, two 50-floor buildings in the Giang Vo apartment complex project can be kept, but the number of floors in the other buildings should be reduced – which could make for interesting landscape while at the same time keeping residential density at an acceptable level.

Chairman of the Hà Nội municipal People’s Committee Nguyen Duc Chung recently lamented that poor urban planning has “chopped up the capital city to bits,” at a meeting with the municipal Department of Planning and Architecture – citing the permissions for multiple projects on a small plots as examples of bad planning.

He cautioned that if this kind of planning persists, the city will pay a steep price in 20 years time.

He then urged the urban planners “to try harder and to produce higher quality planning blueprints.”

Planning not enough

According to Hai, the Ministry of Construction plays a key role in deciding the direction of urban development, but the implementation of such directions is left to city authorities.

The Ministry of Transport carries out numerous infrastructure tasks, which include planning, but mostly planning for traffic, while housing projects are not within their jurisdiction. The result: new roads keep opening but traffic congestion shows scant signs of letting up.

In contrast, he cited the examples of Japan and South Korea where a "super-ministry" is established as a single hub managing infrastructure, traffic, land resources and tourism – resulting in a synchronous planning and implementation of infrastructure and related projects.

The reality of persistent urban flooding and traffic congestion calls for an interdisciplinary/interdepartmental approach, specifically, the multi-sectoral investment planning (MSIP) which developed countries use to reconcile conflicts between ministries and sectors that have not been integrated. This is supposed to effectively prevent compartmentalised sectors inadvertently undermining each other’s efforts.

Tran Quoc Thai, Deputy Director of the Department of Urban Development, argues that there are still numerous bottlenecks in infrastructure and in the connectivity between urban areas. “For example, travelling from the city’s downtown to Ha Dong District can take as much as a few hours, while it should just take 20-25 minutes, and traffic congestion is to blame,” Thai said.

Similarly, the HCM City–Binh Duong route should take about one hour, but it takes much longer, adversely affecting productivity, competitiveness and the overall economy. However, the responsibility for this urban connectivity seems to have been neglected.

Aside from planning, limited success in the diversification of resources for urban development, i.e. failure to attract different types of investors, is also attributable to the current situation. Public-private partnerships (PPP) in infrastructure – especially water supply and drainage and road construction – are besieged with difficulties.

The congestion and flooding afflicting old urban centres like Ha Noi and HCM City is understandable, but these symptoms seem to have spread to relatively new one like Da Nang. The reason is none other than planning without an unified long-term vision, lacking flexibility to accommodate variables.

Lack of suburbia

However, Le Vinh, Director of the Ha Noi municipal Department of Planning and Architecture, told the press last week that the blame for the city’s traffic congestion does not lie with high-rise buildings – the development of which has been “on the right track” – but with assorted reasons.

He said the problem is the city’s ever-growing population and traffic volume and transportation vehicles, and a lack of suburban accommodations to which people can move.

Vinh also disputed claims that former factory lands are only being converted into high-rise apartment buildings, saying the planning clearly stated these reclaimed lands will be repurposed for urban settlement, including apartment buildings but also parks or green spaces, parking zones, hospitals and schools.

Last weekend, the Ha Noi’s People’s Committee submitted its report on the Giang Vo complex to the PM as per his request. Basically, the report boils down to one thing: the complex will not adversely affect area traffic.

In rush hours, traffic volume generated by the complex will take up 6.2 per cent of the surrounding streets’ capacity – still below the permitted level of 5-10 per cent according to the design standards for urban streets, the report claimed.

 
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VNS

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