Poorly synchronised urban planning throughout the country is proving a headache for city authorities and residents alike.
Uncoordinated construction reflects a lack of overall urban planning in the nation’s city centres
Nguyen Thi Ha was stuck in a traffic jam in Thanh Cong Street recently. But, the traffic back-up didn’t upset her nearly as much as the large holes in the street due to incessant roadwork.
“I can not understand why this street has been dug up three times a year for different purposes. Why do they have to do that instead of setting a master plan and do it one time only,” Ha said.
Projects to install telephone wires, a drainage system and a fresh water pipeline on the street are all at various stages of completion.
The situation reflects the feeling of many people that the country has no cohesive strategy for the development of its urban areas.
The main challenges cities in Vietnam face include a lack in investment capital, management experience (especially in the field of building and implementing policies), and inefficient development strategies in the face of rapid urbanisation and a booming population.
According to Dr Le Hong Ke, director of the Centre for Environment Protection and Sustainable Development Planning and head of the Vietnam Urban Development Planning Association, the main hurdles to urban development are the imbalance in population between urban and rural areas and the subsequent overloading of existing urban infrastructure.
Problems related to traffic, fresh water and sanitation need attention. However, a lack of financial muscle means many projects cannot meet long-term targets.
For example, large cities need to develop public transport systems, with bus routes for the short-term and a rail system for the long-term. Ring roads would also play an important role.
While urban planning has a key role to play in the nation’s development, deputy minister of Construction Nguyen Van Lien admitted that planning was still limited.
“We have to overcome the difficulties which we are facing now by setting up a long-term strategy with long-term vision,” Lien said.
Urbanisation is considered the backbone of Vietnam’s attempt to catch up with industrialised countries in the region by 2020, Lien said.
According to a ministry report, no cities or provinces in the country had official civil plans prior to before 1992. Now, 86 cities and provinces have master plans for the years to 2010 which have been approved by the government and many areas hope to extend their plans to 2020.
Vietnam currently has 708 cities, including five first-grade cities directly under the central government’s management, 86 provincial cities and 617 towns. There are two special cities (Hanoi and HCM City), four first-level cities (Hai Phong, Da Nang, Hue and Can Tho), 12 second-level townships, 20 third-level townships, 50 fourth-level townships and 617 fifth-level townships, while there are also 10 new urban areas under construction, 160 industrial zones, and over 20 border gate economic areas and special economic zones.
In addition to these existing areas, 100 industrial zones, 20 economic border gate zones and hundreds of new residential areas are in the works, while Hanoi and HCM City are also set to develop surrounding areas such as Hai Phong-Quang Ninh and Ba Ria-Vung Tau-Long An.
Economic border gate areas, such as Mong Cai, Lang Son, Lao Cai, Moc Bai, Ha Tien, will also create a premise for urban development.
The current situation
According to the Dr Luu Duc Hai, director of the Ministry of Construction’s Institute for Urban and Rural Planning, urban areas in Vietnam have seen rapid development, with a massive population influx in recent years. Statistics show that the number of rural workers spending 80% of their time in urban areas is increasing, particularly in large cities like Hanoi, where there are between 100,000 and 120,000 such workers, and HCM City, where there are 300,000 to 350,000. These transient residents have the potential to overload existing infrastructure, giving rise to urban slums, increasing pollution and creating risks to food safety.
“In addition, the natural environment has not received adequate investment for recovery and upgrading, resulting in a loss in the balance of natural resources in many places,” Hai said.
Generally, urban development and urbanisation in Vietnam is not balanced, with under-developed areas accounting for 82% of total urban areas.
“We may say that the present urban development and urbanisation have not reflected the local special features of regions, zones and climate, and more or less create gaps between urban and rural areas,” Hai added.
In terms of finance, urban authorities have yet to encourage or mobilise contributions from the private sector due to a lack of awareness of the role of the private sector in urban development and a bias in favour of the state sector. Planning and investment for infrastructure in most urban areas of Vietnam tends to be slower than that of the typical urban socio-economy.
The general framework for urban development is in place in most large and small urban areas, but technical infrastructure schemes, especially for infrastructure such as water supplies, drainage and sewage, are only just coming online in Hanoi, Hai Phong and HCM City.
Nor is investment in infrastructure as well synchronised as it could be, and capital investment mainly relies on the state coffers and aid from other countries. The overall process of formulating urban development projects, especially for technical infrastructure, is already quite slow, while being further hampered by a slow process of international integration.
The impact on facilities
The urban population of Vietnam has increased remarkably in recent years, having a strong impact on facilities, according to the Ministry of Construction.
That pressure is creating a risk of imbalanced economic and social development in Hanoi and its neighbouring provinces. While the population in Vietnam’s urban areas of Vietnam was only 19 million in 2000, it had increased to more than 22 million by 2002, and is now expected to reach 30 million by 2010 and to hit 46 million by 2020. The average income in cities, meanwhile, is expected to rise by 10% annually in the years to 2010, with economic growth holding steady at 12 to 15%. Annual per capita income now stands at just overUS$1,000 in the larger cities.
But migration from rural to urban areas is increasing poverty levels in the nation’s cities and Vietnam needs a more flexible and long-term plan for development. Experts say the most important thing is stable development in cities and more coordinated development between the rich and poor areas.
Development needs to catch up
The problems surrounding urban planning can be solved only if the country perfects its strategy to develop an urban planning network, according to deputy construction minister Nguyen Van Lien, who noted that the accompanying legal framework also needs improvement.
“The urbanisation field was just put onto table about 10 years ago. The legal institution involved is still incomplete, therefore we need more time,” Lien said.
The Law on Construction and the Law on Housing have served as a guide for planning so far, but their directives and details remain untested.
“We can have good plans only if we have a stable and sufficient legal system,” Lien said.
The deputy minister also emphasised the importance of the private sector in upgrading civil infrastructure.
“This sector will create competitiveness and eliminate the monopoly of the state-owned sector, providing better services to the people,” he said.
The state currently contributes 60% of urban development funding. “Therefore we have to strengthen the legal system to attract more funding from these sources for investment in urban development,” Lien noted.