HCMC’s Masterplan, to be implemented in 2016, will set the blueprint for the rapidly modernising city.
Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest metropolitan area and an outstanding example of rapid urbanization, economic development and modernization. Rise in international capital, market liberalisation and population mobility have led to overcrowding in the city centre and extended urban development at its fringes; the speed at which this took place placed a strain on the city’s socio-economic infrastructure resulting in largely unchecked and haphazard urban growth.
New masterplan to be implemented in 2016
As HCMC continues to progress, there is increasingly a pressing need to put in place a legitimate yet practical masterplan to provide institutional guidance to its future spatial development and urban renewal. The approved new masterplan to be implemented in 2016 through to 2025 replaces its limited 1998 predecessor that lasted less than a decade and the old ineffective master plan of 1993. This time, Vietnam’s state government was enlightened enough to move away from closed door in-house planning to engaging foreign experts in urban planning from Japan and France to provide the necessary studies, framework and advice.
The Masterplan of HCMC through 2025 is at the heart of the city’s urban renewal initiative as it addresses the exposed socio-economic problems plaguing it. At the municipal level according to the masterplan, HCMC will be modelled to encompass 4 satellite regional centres revolving around a central region:
A Core Central Region (CCR) comprising District 1, District 3, part of District 4, part of Binh Thanh District and Thu Thiem New Urban Area of District 2.
Rest of Central Region (RCR) inclusive of the rest of Districts 4 and Binh Thanh, plus Districts 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, Phu Nhuan, Tan Binh, Tan Phu and Go Vap.
4 satellite Regional Centres outside of the central region; ‘Eastern Regional Centre made up of Districts 2, 9 and Thu Duc’, ‘Southern Regional Centre made up of Districts 7, Nha Be and part of Binh Chanh’, ‘Western Regional Centre made up of Districts Binh Tan, and part of Binh Chanh’ and ‘Northern Region Centre made up of Districts 12 and Hoc Mon’.
The four Regional Centres represent the general directions to the development of HCMC also known as the growth corridors; 2 main primary directions (East and South) are emphasized and focused by the state government as seen by the amount of investments and ongoing construction. Two other auxiliary directions (West-Southwest and Northwest) playing second fiddle to the primary directions.
These Regional Centres (in accordance with the masterplan) will play an increasingly important role, decentralizing key socio-economic functions away from the central region: The East centred at Thu Thiem will develop high-class services (for example, finance, etc.), high-tech industries, and eco-tourism amongst others.
The South focused around Saigon South (inclusive of Phu My Hung) will concentrate on industries and port services. The West- Southwest based around Tan Kien will consist of industrial parks, service industries and residential areas. The Northwest planned around Tan Thoi Nhi will develop a service-based economy, ecological tourism, high-tech agriculture, and new residential areas.
According to research by Professor Wendell Cox: “The urban development trends in HCMC mirrors that of high income urban areas in the world; with the CCR experiencing little to no population growth and is very dense (1.5 times denser as compared to Manhattan or Ville de Paris), while the peripheral areas are registering stronger growths and are differentiated by its lower density. In contrast, all the growth is expected outside the central region (OCR), along the urban fringe areas (2004 to 2009 shows a growth rate of 31%), with a population density that is near that of San Francisco.” He projected that by 2025, the CCR’s population will decline further, with the RCR’s population growth rate moderating out (slowing down) as well, while all the growth is focused in the OCR (again approximately a 30% growth rate).
The results of Professor Wendell Cox research provide evidence that the current and projected development of HCMC is in line with its new masterplan and that the masterplan being consistent with current urban trends provides a good blueprint to guide HCMC’s future development.
The Central Region has one peculiar distinguishing characteristic; very thin buildings as a result of taxation on the width of buildings. However, with progress, such buildings are rapidly making way for socio-economic infrastructure developments, and high-rise commercial and residential buildings. Large patches are being acquired by the state government and sold to real estate developers for redevelopment purposes.
Another obvious characteristic of the Central Region in particular its core (CCR) are heritage buildings steeped in history as evidenced by the surviving European architecture from colonial times; most are housing important government functions, assigned to state-owned enterprises or are preserved as tourist attractions. Evident of the former is the frequently photographed HCMC People’s Committee Headquarters and of the latter, the Independence Palace all located in downtown HCMC. In the name of progress and lack of comprehensive conservation laws, many less prominent colonial buildings have given way to modern developments. Those that survived are being renovated and their architecture conserved (for example the Rex and Grand Hotels).
Just last year, the Saigon Tax Trade Center (founded in 1880) was approved to be torn down to make way for part of a metro line station, and a 40-storey office and hotel building; causing much resistance and petitions from many corners of society. A positive result is that now the state government has engaged experts to offer suggestions on how to preserve parts of the heritage building.
The landscape of HCMC at its urban fringe outside of the Central Region is a picture of contrasts as compared to the Central Region; it is characterised by less formal developments and very attractive housing. Low-rise, large, spacious and modern day designed landed properties are the mainstay of the OCR landscape. However, recent trends are showing residential and commercial high-rises sprouting out all over as part of large scale planned development initiatives (townships and urban regional centres).
A good example will be both the East and South planned Regional Centres in District 2 and District 7 respectively. On both sides of the Hanoi Highway in District 2, many residential and commercial developments are completed with many more in various stages of construction. Closer scrutiny reveals a suburban enclave slowly taking shape. In the South, a clearer model of an emerging Regional Centre has already taken shape with development of Saigon South New Urban Area (inclusive of Phu My Hung). A mix of largely landed property and pockets of high-rise urban areas dots HCMC’s urban fringes. In time to come, these developments will form the foundation of HCMC’s four planned Regional Centres.
In the upcoming article(s), we will take an indepth look at urban renewal (construction and infrastructure) that is taking place in the key areas mentioned above; specifically the redevelopment of the Core Central Region and the rise of the primary Regional Centres to the East and South.