Vietnam Panel



City Making in Vietnam: Experiencing, Negotiating and Contesting Plans and Policies for ‘Modern’ Cities in a Socialist State

Faire la ville au Vietnam: Expérimenter, négocier et contester les plans et politiques pour les villes "modernes" dans un État socialiste


Saturday, October 23, 2021


09:00 – 10:45

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Over the last 30 years, impressive volumes of cement and steel have been redefining and remoulding Vietnam’s urban skylines, encouraged by particular political discourses of what is needed to create “modern” progressive cities. Despite many residents being concerned about rising pollution, traffic congestion, and the volume and speed of rural-urban migration, contemporary cities with their towering high rises, residential enclaves, and broad highways are hailed by government officials as the means to expand the country’s economic growth and “advance” society, albeit while maintaining political order. In this panel, we bring the politics and practices of Vietnam’s urban environments into the limelight, drawing particular attention to the ways by which city planning, (re)organization, and expansion are central to the reconfiguration of space and control over people’s livelihoods, mobilities, leisure time; indeed, all aspects of their daily lives. Spanning the length of Vietnam, our case studies capture a range of city-building dynamics and controversies in the capital Hanoi, the economic powerhouse Ho Chi Minh City, that city’s “gateway province” Bình Dương, and more remote Tây Ninh province. Along the way, we highlight debates over urban public-space creation and control, concerns over foreign involvement in urban railway construction, the role of state-owned enterprises in the making of New Towns, and discords between state and residents’ ideal imaginaries for their cities.

Convenor/Animateur: Sarah Turner, McGill University; Danielle Labbé, Université de Montréal;  Pham Thi Thanh Hiên, Université du Québec à Montréal

Chair/Président: Sarah Turner, McGill University

Event poster


Can Vietnam Rely on the Private Sector to Produce Open Public Spaces in Cities? The Case of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City

Danielle Labbé, École d’urbanisme et d’architecture de paysage, Université de Montréal

The production of open public spaces, such as parks, public gardens, and playgrounds, has experienced major changes in urban Vietnam in the last two decades. Starting in the late 1990s, public policies have sought to transfer a significant part of the responsibility to invest, design, build, and manage these spaces from the public to the private sector. Twenty years on, few studies have examined the outcomes of this major policy shift. This paper presents the results of a pilot study responding to this gap. Drawing on the cases of two areas at the near periphery of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, it critically reviews the policies and institutional mechanisms governing the private production of open public spaces in Vietnamese cities and assesses their outcomes in terms of the quantity, types, and quality of the spaces produced. We find that current policies do not provide sufficient incentives to ensure the provision of enough open public spaces in newly urbanized districts. We further find that most of the open public spaces produced by the private sector consists of very small or decorative spaces that support very few activities, or are exclusive spaces. Moreover, the few larger open public spaces produced by the private sector provide insufficient basic facilities and equipment. Governmental authorities therefore need to reconsider the balance of responsibilities between the public and private sectors with regards to open public space provision, to avoid the development of urban areas severely deficient in these essential amenities.

Inequitable Infrastructure: Mobility In/justices Accompanying Hanoi’s New Urban Railway Line 2A

Sarah Turner, Binh N. Nguyen, Madeleine Hykes; Department of Geography, McGill University

In 2008, the Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam approved a major infrastructure project for the capital city Hanoi—the construction of an urban rail network consisting of eight lines spanning 318 kilometres. Line 2A, the first line of this Hanoi Urban Railway System, has been under construction since 2011, and while originally slated for completion in 2013, it remains non-operational as of February 2021. Spanning 13 kilometres across the city centre, Line 2A has encountered more than just construction setbacks, its reputation being tarnished by accidents, public scepticism over accessibility and convenience, and contractor choice. Indeed, two-thirds of the original financing came from loans from China, conditional on the consultants, construction, and materials being sourced from China. This paper focuses on how Hanoi residents relate to, experience, and negotiate this Chinese-Vietnamese infrastructure project. Drawing on interviews with Hanoi residents and urban planners between 2017 and 2021, we focus first on public perceptions of Line 2A, and how the Line’s intimate ties with China have resulted in pointed commentaries, arguably cementing long-standing socio-political critiques. Second, we analyze how the Line’s construction has impacted the livelihoods of informal motorbike taxi drivers, and how this might pan out in the future. While the Vietnamese state considers investing in urban infrastructure—such as Hanoi’s new railway system—as an important symbol of modern mobility, we find that Line 2A is not only creating new mobility privileges and inequalities, it is also raising broader concerns regarding the city’s future.

A Socialist Growth Machine? The Role of Political-entrepreneurial Partnerships in the Making of Bình Dương’s New Towns, southern Vietnam

Tran Khac Minh, Organisation et la Diffusion de l'Information Géographique (PRODIG), Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

Since 1986, the liberalization of the Vietnamese economy has resulted in the restructuring of the public sector including the creation of numerous state-owned enterprises in which the state retains significant control through majority or significant minority ownership. New forms of these state-owned enterprises continue to be piloted, especially in the country’s provinces considered to have potential for greater industrialisation and urbanization. In this paper, I focus on Bình Dương province, located in southeast Vietnam, now emerging as a rival to Ho Chi Minh City with regards to local and overseas investment, due to its large industrial base and proliferation of new towns during the last 15 years. My aim is to decipher the role of Becamex, a large state-owned enterprise, in shaping Bình Dương province’s new town development policy. Becamex has been actively participating in redefining the economic and territorial configuration of Bình Dương province through the creation of multiple urban and industrial megaprojects. I scrutinize the particularities of Binh Duong’s new towns, notably their spatial and functional organization involving a complexity of real estate projects, and industrial and hi-tech parks. I also examine the emergence of new trans-provincial development corridors and Bình Dương’s competitive position compared to Ho Chi Minh City’s metropolitan region, in relation to the Province’s new town policy. Focusing on the roles of state-owned enterprises in Vietnam’s urban design and growth uncovers the complexity of territorial development and regional construction in Vietnam, while also starting to reveal the adaptability and reinvention of the national public sector.

“No Flooding or Traffic Jams Here, but no Jobs Either!” Urban Imaginaries in Small Border Towns in Tây Ninh Province, southern Vietnam

Pham Thi Thanh Hiên, Département d'études urbaines et touristiques, Université du Québec à Montréal; Tran Khac Minh, Organisation et la Diffusion de l'Information Géographique (PRODIG), Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne.

Drawing on current postcolonial calls to decipher so-called “ordinary” cities and their everyday lives (Robinson 2006, Roy 2009), in this paper we examine “What does it mean to be urban in the Vietnam context?” With the Vietnamese state encouraging the proliferation of cities, aiming to create 1,000 new cities by 2025, this question has never been so crucial. We focus on the urban system within Tây Ninh Province to attempt to provide answers to this question, paying particular attention to the state’s visions, the imaginaries of this Province’s cities by different actors, and everyday experiences of urbanization. Sitting on the border with Cambodia, and part of the transnational “Greater Mekong Subregion,” Tây Ninh’s turbulent past, ethnic diversity, and role as a core locale for Caodaism, make it a fascinating case study for the theorization of “ordinary cities.” Drawing on over 60 in-depth interviews since 2017, we find that provincial planning agencies have been trying different ways to boost urbanization. These have included a heavy reliance on the border economy, taking advantage of the proximity to Ho Chi Minh City (including building highways and a border [ghost) town), creating multiple industrial zones, and vigorously pushing for town “up-ranking.” While local residents tend to enjoy the services that come along with the upgraded status of their towns such as water infrastructure and sidewalks, they remain concerned regarding a lack of real socio-economic opportunities, including employment and health care, revealing complex clashes in ideal urban imaginaries.

CCSEAS Conference 2021 |