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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Challenges for the new city

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The HCMC leadership has been determined to develop the eastern innovative city, temporarily named Thu Duc, hoping it will be a city of knowledge and an innovative and creative center. Creativity and innovation are necessary to enhance the competitiveness of the new city, but it needs suitable steps in time and space and community psychology preparedness to turn the ambition into reality.

It will need more than 10 years, and even up to 15 years, to realize the idea of developing an administrative entity which operates up to its designated role and function. Thu Duc City now is just an idea and an expectation manifested through a letter submitted to the Government. To turn the expectation into reality, it needs first and foremost a good plan, and then a reasonable roadmap and adequate legal and physical conditions for the execution of the plan. With a good plan, authorities can persuade relevant ministries, and then the Prime Minister. Further, there are issues which must be approved by the National Assembly before the plan can be executed. It should be noted that the previous “metropolitan government” scheme of HCMC was not approved by the Government because many issues were scientifically deficient.

This article comes out as a suggestion for space design and structure to improve the Thu Duc City plan.

Thu Duc City is formed by merging three existing districts, namely 2, 9 and Thu Duc. According to a plan of the municipal Department of Home Affairs, it will be a new administrative unit with the largest area in HCMC (212 square kilometers) versus those of inner-city districts (13 times larger than the combined area of districts 1, 3 and 4 and only smaller than the areas of the outlying districts of Cu Chi, Binh Chanh and Can Gio). Its population amounts to 1.1 million.

The three districts are currently multi-functional districts, but upon merging, the most prominent function is knowledge-intelligence-innovation. That said, economic, social, administrative and managerial activities must center on this pivotal function.

In the world, there are hundreds of cities with the main function of research, innovation, trial production and commercialization of products, such as Silicon Valley (the United States), Bangalore (India) and Songdo (South Korea). These cities have been developed on a completely new land, which means that their construction follows exactly the design on the drawing. They have been designated as mono-functional cities, and all the design, construction, operation, spatial structure (transport, buildings, public space and services) and administration were planned before development.

Meanwhile, the eastern innovative city is the merger of three existing districts, so the spatial structure is very difficult. The difficulties are:

Determining the center of the new city

Any city must have a center, which is home to the city administration, diplomatic agencies, headquarters of big businesses, banks and the stock market. The center of the innovative city must be located in the hub of innovations. It seems unsatisfactory if the center is located in one of the two places which are currently the hubs of the innovative city, the National University campus and the Hi-tech Park, as university towns and hi-tech parks worldwide are deemed as “living in daytime, dead in night time,” i.e. they are busy in daytime with the presence of hundreds of thousands of people but are deserted at night with almost no economic, social and cultural activities. Therefore, the center of the innovative city may be located in an area with no innovation activities but with many inhabitants.

Creating a living environment conducive to innovation

In principle, the primary function, which is, in the case of the innovative city, knowledge, innovation, intelligence, high technology and high quality life, should be given top priority in the organization of transport, technical infrastructure and social services in a city. All activities must seemingly gear toward and best serve this function. For example, the innovative city must have many trees, very low environmental pollution, little noise, nearly no rapid transit and heavy container trucks, excellent security and high-quality services. It is only in this environment that innovations can be created, intellectuals can gather and scientists and top experts can work effectively. However, it’s not easy for such things to develop with the three districts which have been established and developed over a long period of time.

Restructuring space

It needs a clear, detailed roadmap for restructuring the physical space, the economic, social, administrative and managerial space and the zoning-architecture space.

Every three to five years, it’s necessary to work out plans for logical organization of the urban as well as the socio-economic space. In practice, the area termed as innovation is very small and its population is not large; so the immediate and rapid transformation of a large area with 212 square kilometers and 1.1 million people into the operation of the “innovation” mode is not easy at all. Further, the comprehensive restructuring to meet the demand of a new city is a challenge not only in finance and land but also in integration and movement.

So, in the initial stage, entities with high contents of grey matter (with the same function) should be integrated into a new unit with a clear administrative boundary, a separate administration and an own name, say the science town, which covers the campus of the National University (650 hectares), the Hi-tech Park (800 hectares) and the part connecting these two entities via the Hanoi Highway (28 hectares) to form a complete bloc. All these three sections are in Thu Duc District, and the Department of Zoning and Architecture has recently proposed modification for this integration. If the spatial integration is not possible, it’s advisable to integrate the management and operation mechanisms of the two scientific units in Thu Duc District and the eco-technology center (25 hectares) planned in District 9.

After the establishment of this science town, authorities should continue to transform the remaining areas of the three districts smoothly and avoid hiccups on the way because all things relevant to the administration of local residents and government agencies must be changed in the process of transformation into a city. Therefore, it may have to wait for synchronous implementation citywide under the “Spatial and administrative restructuring of HCMC” scheme and in line with the National Assembly’s Standing Committee’s Resolution 653 dated March 12-2019 for re-arrangement of administrative units at the district and commune levels in 2019-2021 whereby many districts and wards must be merged or separated and many outlying districts must be transformed into inner-city districts. When the plan for the new city is ready, it’s more favorable for presentation to the Government and the National Assembly as well as for the re-arrangement of inner city districts and outlying districts. Careful consideration should be made if the life of more than one million people in an area of 212 square kilometers may be overturned and become more expensive merely because of the development of the science town in an area of 1,500 hectares (15 square kilometers) with a working population of less than 200,000 people.

Should Thu Thiem be integrated into the innovative city?

This is an issue in need of consideration. According to Decision 367 issued by the Prime Minister in 1996, Thu Thiem will be a new growth engine of HCMC. It will share the functions which the existing city center (930 hectares) is overburdened or unable to develop due to land constraints.

According to Sasaki’s plan which won in the contest for Thu Thiem urban design in 2003 and was later revised by HCMC and approved by the Government, Thu Thiem will be like Pudong in Shanghai, with the biggest financial center in Vietnam. Besides the stock exchange, the new urban center will be home to high-rises of the world’s big companies, a large square for meetings and military parades on big holidays, a conservatory, a circus theater, an exhibition house, a natural museum, wharves, public parks, greenery and hi-tech research institutes.

After construction of the Thu Thiem 2 Bridge is completed, it needs just several minutes of walking to reach Thu Thiem; so, it would be better in every respect to integrate the new urban center into District 1. The district currently has a very small area, with just seven square kilometers, not on par with the stature of the center of a city with an area of 2,100 square kilometers and a population of 12 million. The integration will not only increase the area of the district but more importantly also make it more effective for District 1 to manage and operate the extended functions assumed by Thu Thiem.

The integration of Thu Thiem into the innovative city, if merely for an increase of area, is not only unreasonable but also derails the important functions originally conceived for this new urban center; and such functions will have no more ground and motivation for development.

By Nguyen Minh Hoa

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