Hanoi, why has it come to this?

Hanoi, why has it come to this?

A few days ago, I went to the market to buy flowers for the first day of the lunar month. The market near my house had no more chrysanthemums.

The flower seller said: people bought them all for the funeral of the apartment fire victims. 56 people passed away on September 12th. This day next year will mark 56 first death anniversaries. So many lives, so many dreams were cut short. Hanoi, why has it come to this?

The apartment owner has been arrested. Investigations are underway. Some people will be held accountable. Regulations on mini apartments will be tightened. But I feel that we still haven’t touched the core of the problem.

A city of nearly 10 million people is crammed into a tiny area by the Red River. Traffic jams, flooding, dust, cramped housing, lack of greenery, unsafe food in many places, polluted water and air, lack of classrooms for children, fires and explosions… these are the problems that Hanoi residents have to bear. The reputation of the once elegant Hanoi is increasingly fading.

My family has lived on this land for generations. Now when I meet newcomers to Hanoi, I feel embarrassed as if I am at fault for letting Hanoi come to this. My students from all over the country, when they enter school, are all excited about a new life in the capital. But I’m afraid some will be disillusioned by the shabby dormitories, narrow alleys, and flooding when it rains. They eat at cheap eateries, where food is often leftovers from the market. On their days off, they wander around looking at cheap clothes at student markets.

Looking back at Hanoi’s history, in 1831, King Minh Mang established Hanoi province, which included most of Ha Tay, Ha Nam provinces and Hanoi city. Ha Tay province, which was later merged into Hanoi, also inherited this management vision from the past.

On October 1st, 1888, King Dong Khanh signed a decree ceding Hanoi to France as a concession and two days later, Governor Richaud turned Hanoi into a city under concession rule. The French planned Hanoi to become the capital of Indochina Federation and built a new city while still retaining some essence of old Hanoi.

They took Hoan Kiem Lake as the center of the new city, connecting the bustling old quarter in the north with the western district in the south of the lake. The old quarter still retained its old streets but was paved with stone slabs and had drainage systems and sidewalks.

The new district consisted of straight and spacious boulevards with green trees and villas. Around Hoan Kiem Lake they opened a boulevard running around it. The city hall, post office, power station and newspaper office were located along the lake. Further away were necessary institutions of a state including Indochina Bank, court house, grand theater, governor’s palace, university and central hotel… All these buildings were harmoniously constructed with surrounding landscape and still exist today.

The later development achievements of Hanoi include the construction of some projects in the suburbs such as: the concentrated industrial zone of Cao Xa La, including rubber factories, soap factories, cigarette factories, and some other consumer goods factories located in the suburban fields outside Nga Tu So; collective housing for officials in the fields of Kim Lien village, Trung Tu; Bach Khoa University located in the lowland area south of Bay Mau Lake.

Not much. Basically, Hanoi still retains its French colonial appearance. Many people who left Hanoi in the 1940s, when they returned in the 1990s, found that Hanoi was still the same, they didn’t get lost, only the old streets were more crowded.

Hanoi entered a period of population explosion from the 1990s. Millions of people from many places chose Hanoi as their new place of residence. The capital developed, lacking the guiding hand of a systematic plan. The old suburban fields have now become a maze of tube houses.

The old industrial zones were swallowed up by spontaneous residential areas. From above, you can see endless red and green tin roofs, winding roads like threads running through countless houses, few green trees, lakes, playgrounds.

According to the old plan, streets in the city have strict construction regulations. The village is in the suburbs. Old Hanoi had only one exception that was Xom Ha Hoi, located within the city. But today’s Hanoi can list many villages in the city, villages have become cities or cities have become villages.

In 1983, director Tran Van Thuy warned in his film “Hanoi in Whose Eyes”. The film has a scene where a Westerner says: “Hanoi is like a big village”. Watching that scene, I and many Hanoians felt very self-conscious. Now thinking back, I see that the prophecy from 40 years ago was so accurate.

I do not deny the efforts of the authorities in developing Hanoi. The shortcomings or even mistakes of the past cannot be solved overnight. The new roads opened up were quickly filled with people and vehicles. This intersection was just built with an overpass then the next intersection got stuck again. People continue to flock to Hanoi to live from various places, making all efforts of the authorities seem futile.

I am not a planner, I am a citizen, speaking with a citizen’s heart. If you want to improve Hanoi’s life then planning must come first, must have a long-term vision. To plan correctly and accurately must be sincere with people.

Planners say that if you want to reduce urban population density, you must move universities and large hospitals to the outskirts. But how many years have passed and Hoa Lac and many land areas for large universities still have very few schools moved up, two hospitals built in Ha Nam to welcome two large central hospitals are still deserted. They say they want to spread out the old town but for many years each house still has dozens of families living cramped…

Why can’t such reasonable and beautiful plans convince people? The authorities say they want to spread out the old town but still permit large hotels to be built right next to Hoan Kiem Lake, damaging the landscape heart of Hanoi. Like this, beautiful words about planning will only be for those who are gullible.

When will Hanoi have better planning vision? Urban problems will be limited and people’s quality of life will be improved.

Quan Thế Dân

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Hanoi, why has it come to this?
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