Given its total area of almost 2,100 square kilometers, HCMC is a large metropolis in comparison with its counterparts around the world. If this city knows how to restructure its living spaces and redistribute the urban population in a more appropriate way, HCMC’s panoramic picture will be brighter and the existing chronic problems of extremely high density population in the inner city will be avoided.
HCMC’s current population, some 10 million people, is projected to continue to rapidly rise to the peak, the highest level this city is able to endure. It comes as no surprise that a city has its own limits as regards its population and physical structure. They are not endless because a city’s natural resources—such as land, clean water and energy—are limited. So are the abilities to meet demand when it comes to the city’s technical infrastructure—like roads, bridges and water drainage—and social services—such as hospitals, schools, markets and graveyards—which cannot be extended forever.
Satellite cities needed
It is highly advisable for HCMC to turn itself into a center of finance and services at a high level. One of the urgent tasks is to restructure the economic aspect by reducing the size of unskilled labor and putting an end to factories using low technologies while focusing on hi-tech parks, software centers and biotech parks.
The next task is to resettle low-skilled workers to the uptown or the suburb, or even to the neighboring provinces of Binh Duong, Long An and Dong Nai, together with industrial development in central provinces so that workers there no longer feel the urge to migrate to HCMC.
At the same time, it is necessary to form at least one or two new urban centers which are even more or at least as modern as the existing downtown to share the burden of the current 930-hectare center. Now on weekends or holidays, too many people flock to the city’s center, which causes problems in security, safety and fire prevention. As the people’s demands for shopping and entertainment are extremely great, those massive crowds may pose a great risk if everyone tries to gather at the area of Nguyen Hue Boulevard and Bach Dang Quay in District 1. That’s why setting up new centers is essential. In addition to Thu Thiem, which is in fact an extension of the existing central business district, new centers can be in Thanh Da Peninsular, the Saigon South and the northeast of the City (Districts 2 and 9).
The development of satellite centers of services beyond the inner city—such as hospitals, schools and shopping malls—will also prompt residents to choose to leave the too crowded downtown. The construction of some hospitals in Binh Chanh District—including the City Children’s Hospital accommodating 1,000 beds and requiring capital of almost VND4.5 trillion and the HCMC Hospital for Traumatology and Orthopaedics—can be counted as an effort to be in line with this trend. Another convincing example is Aeon malls in Tan Phu and Binh Tan districts. The coming into existence of these two mega malls has made local residents’ business and daily life livelier. Their births are like a boost to other services surrounding them, such as restaurants and hotels. Consequently, aside from the formation of industrial parks, the establishment of residential areas can rely on hubs of shopping centers and services.
Expansion of territory and planning of agricultural belts
Of the 2,100 square kilometers of HCMC, Can Gio accounts for 700 square kilometers. However, developing this quarter is really a formidable challenge. Meanwhile, good land in HCMC has been almost used up. As a result, planning for HCMC should include the option of territory expansion. For instance, the two adjacent regions of Nhon Trach District in Dong Nai Province (430 square kilometers) and Duc Hoa District in Long An Province (426 square kilometers) can be annexed to HCMC. If so, the city will have an additional of 850 square kilometers, which is synonymous with more development opportunities for the second half of the 21st century.
What’s more, it needs to pay attention to the planning of an agricultural belt in suburban districts with orientation toward hi-tech farming. The hi-tech farms, in addition to supplying Saigonese with food, also help keep farmers in place without having to move to the inner city.
The city should be consistent with what should be retained, for instance, quarters of high-quality vegetable fruit and cultivation in Cu Chi and Hoc Mon districts. This can be done only by huge investment and the attraction of enthusiastic investors. It is also necessary to remain steadfast and unshaken in refusing requests for the change of land-use purposes, which often seeks to transform agricultural land to industrial land.
In 2008, HCMC started construction of its hi-tech park in Pham Van Coi Commune in Cu Chi District on an area of 88 hectares. However, this model has failed to grow further, stopping halfway at the research, application, experiment and technological transfer phases on a small scale.
Agriculture should be retained. However, traditional farming will be phased out. In place of them are industrial workers doing their jobs in milk cow farms and large scale fruit gardens and making use of hi-tech cultivation. Investment should be made in keeping traditional craft villages which combines their trade with tourism services. The most feasible villages of this category should involve pottery, bamboo strip knitting, fine carpentry, and orchid and bonsai tree growing.
Furthermore, it is also advisable to retain the structure of traditional villages and communes, the traditional house structure as well as distinctive landscapes and the environment of each quarter to create traditional cultural “space-architecture.” For instance, traditional house space in the south, the north and the central region should be kept in accordance with house owners’ will. Meanwhile, the tube house model should be restricted while distinctive greenery should be retained, too, to give rise to green, clean, airy, peaceful and friendly space capable of luring visitors.
The rest should be saved for services, such as tourism (homestay services should be prioritized), the resort business, health care or short trips on the weekend like those in Taiwan to make full use of redundant work force. Developing services and tourism in the suburb also signifies a measure for attracting residents in the inner city to form modern villages like those in Taiwan, Malaysia and Japan. The model of hi-tech agriculture combined with tourism will foster sustainability and create a class of modern agricultural workers.
Formation of high-end residential areas
Typical of these areas at this moment are Phu My Hung in District 7, and Thao Dien and An Phu-An Khanh in District 2. Residential quarters of this sort will positively affect social changes in a more civilized way. However, to foster the sustainability of these high-end residential quarters, effective management is the key. This involves the formation of high-quality towns across the districts. Say, if Phu My Hung is to become an independent town headed by a town chief on the same par with existing districts and be directly affiliated to the municipal government, then its development will be much better than being under the management of a ward apparatus. In accordance with this spirit, new towns will emerge, such as Binh Chanh Town, Cu Chi Town and An Phu-An Khanh Town, which can revolutionize urban management and captivate more residents.
Currently in HCMC, there have existed some quarters for expatriates, although their quality is not high, their development is uneven and the spillover effect is low. For example, Korean communities (about 70,000 people) live principally in the area of Tan Son Nhat Airport, on Pham Van Hai Street, in An Phu-An Khanh area and in Phu My Hung. Japanese communities here reside mostly on Le Thanh Ton and Thi Sach streets in District 1. Taiwanese mostly live in Phu My Hung and Europeans in Thao Dien in District 1, and Districts 1 and 3.
Rearrangement of the living space aimed at the appropriate population redistribution is the most crucial task for the HCMC authorities from now to the end of the 21st century. If the city can come up with a workable rearrangement aimed at better living spaces and a more appropriate population distribution, it will obtain a brighter panoramic urban picture expected of a livable metropolis. A failure in this regard will mean that the city will forever get mired in overloading when it comes to population and otherwise.
By Dr. Nguyen Minh Hoa