Friday, December 10, 2010
The image of Vietnamese cities we construct from films and photographs is full of bicycles peacefully pedaling through the streets. However, the increasingly westernizing market economy has transformed personal mobility to a state where most people now move by motorbike. According to one study, in 1995, more than 60% of trips were made by bicycle and less than 20% by motorbike. In 2005, the numbers had switched. The Japanese International Cooperation Agency reports that in a country of 86 million people there are over 25 million motorbikes and 1.3 million cars. Despite the low rate of car ownership, the number of cars is increasing quickly as they become an increasingly important status symbol. Streets already clogged to the point that, at rush hour, roads informally become one-way streets by force of critical mass, including motorbikes traveling on sidewalks.
Streets in Hanoi’s ancient quarter are named for the trade – blacksmith street, silk street, fish soup street, etc – that was historically performed there, and many streets still have only one trade in shop after shop for the entirety of a block. Though some streets maintain their historic vocation, many have changed to sell plastic toys, hinges and door handles, etc. Just as each street has a long history of a specific trade, many of the surrounding villages that have long been part of the City's economic network and have now been absorbed into the city’s new perimeter host not only residential development, but also specialize in one specific trade such as bottle sorting and recycling, chicken and duck feather cleaning and sorting (the above street is a few inches deep in drying feathers), vermicelli noodle making, pottery, tailoring.
Friday, December 3, 2010
Perhaps the most notable change in Hanoi, a 1,000 year old city, has been the rapid physical growth. Buildings, even in the historic Ancient and French Quarters, have grown quickly upward and inward, as floors have been added and new buildings have been constructed over historic courtyards, yards, and anywhere there was space (the photo above shows a retail infill structure added to an older French villa). At the citywide scale, in 2008 the City expanded its boundaries to encompass villages and green areas in the periphery to allow for urbanization around the edges of the City. Farms near the adjacent urban areas were purchased to allow the construction of New Urban Areas (NUAs). The NUAs are huge residential and office projects, many in the hundreds of hectares, with some commercial mixed use components.
Since 1986, when the communist government of Vietnam began Doi Moi, the process of opening the country to economic markets, change has come at an accelerating pace. In particular, the last 10 years have seen immense growth and change as industrialization and modernization have been the mantra of government in an attempt to follow in the footsteps of China to the north. As growing middle and upper classes have come to demand new and bigger homes, first motorbikes then cars, and global consumer products, the landscape of and life in Hanoi have changed dramatically.