Vietnamese have long been accustomed to considering their doorsteps and streets as a natural extension of their homes. With ground floor shops overflowing onto the street and homes open to the passer-by’s view, what will happen to the Vietnamese daily soap opera that is life, as the urban landscape changes?

 

As residents begin to move from shop-house to apartment building, what does this mean for the urban evolution of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi? More than an architectural change, Vietnam is experiencing an economic and social movement across the country. The evolution of Vietnam’s urban lifestyle drives a need for urban public spaces.

 

Street life has been a way to assess the “Asian-ness” of a city. In the case of Vietnam, the typical street has been the closest form of an urban public space. Unlike classical European cities, Vietnam doesn’t really have squares, just a few parks located in the inherited colonial city centres. Although Vietnam has ambitious infrastructure projects underway such as airports and industrial development, almost none are for open, green public spaces.

 

As Vietnam’s cities experience first-world problems such as traffic congestion, pollution and over-population, the government and city dwellers are beginning to stand up and take a greater interest in the development and enhancement of urban public spaces — but much more is needed if Vietnam is to build true global cities.

 

Fresh Thinking in Developing Cities

 

The United Nations is committed to providing public space in the heart of the world’s developing cities. Its 2016 to 2030 Sustainable Development goals describe making cities “provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.”

 

This goal will have a significant impact in Asia, which now accounts for 53 percent of the world’s urban population, and is home to 16 of the world’s 28 megacities.

 

Vietnam is beginning to see the first stages of this urban concept, such as the opening of the first walking street Nguyen Hue in Ho Chi Minh City in April 2015, and the expansion of the walking street around Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi in September, a huge attraction for locals and foreigners alike.

 

Investing for the Future

 

As urbanisation leads to denser cities and higher demand for available land, the pressure is on to create and maintain public spaces. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. The construction and development of public spaces in urban life remains a challenge for Vietnam.

 

Some of Vietnam’s neighbours are taking a communal approach by crowd-sourcing ideas. Bangkok’s city government, for one, has launched the Inclusive Bangkok project, while Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority runs an annual Ideas for Public Spaces competition. Malaysia has created an annual arts and culture event known as Urbanscapes that showcases Kuala Lumpur’s public spaces and artistic endeavours.

 

Creating such spaces, particularly green ones, is just the start; as a long-term commitment, they require regular investment and government support to keep them fit for purpose. The benefits will outweigh the costs, so let’s hope that, for Vietnam’s cities and the people who live in them, more is done as the urban landscape evolves.

 

Greg Ohan is the Vietnam director of JLL, a leading global real estate services firm. Email your questions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit joneslanglasalle.com

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