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Thủ Thiêm Wetland of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Become...

Thủ Thiêm Wetland of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Become Central Business District

How big is Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam? Any newcomer to this sprawling conurbation would be forgiven for thinking it infinite, especially if they find themselves in the labyrinthine, haphazard sprawl of its periphery. In reality of course, the city (known to most locals by its historical name, Saigon) has its limits, even if those

View of central Saigon from District 2, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

How big is Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam? Any newcomer to this sprawling conurbation would be forgiven for thinking it infinite, especially if they find themselves in the labyrinthine, haphazard sprawl of its periphery. In reality of course, the city (known to most locals by its historical name, Saigon) has its limits, even if those limits are constantly being redefined.

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is growing— and growing rapidly. Current projections posit an expansion of the municipal population from approximately 9 million residents to 13.2 million by 2025, with almost all the growth occurring in suburban or peri-urban areas. Development is therefore outward rather than upward, in spite of an increase in the construction of high-rises.

Development in the colonial and initial post-colonial period clung to Saigon’s infrastructure: its canals, roads, and early tramlines (which are no longer in existence). Post war urbanization followed no such pattern, as the rural population swelled the city’s periphery with a series of ad hoc, favela-esque constructions in the surrounding wetlands. Over time, these unplanned additions were integrated into the city’s infrastructure, imbuing HCMC’s architecture with a chaotic texture.

The surrounding wetlands restricted development to some extent. This led to large scale drainage of wetlands in Phú Nhuận district and, subsequently, large scale development. Other areas proved more problematic, and a similar wetland in District 2 has resisted development efforts. Though criss-crossed by highways, the lush wetland of Thủ Thiêm has provided a stark contrast with the development lying beyond. That is, up until now.

Wetland habitat in Thủ Thiêm, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

There are ambitious plans afoot for Thủ Thiêm. The 737 hectare site is to be completely transformed into HCMC’s new central business district, incorporating a new international airport and port facilities serving the Dồng Nai River. It is a fundamental realignment of the city, relocating its epicenter from its historic heart in District One. Indeed, resistance to development in Saigon’s historic quarter is one of the reasons that population growth is more noticeable in the municipality’s periphery. To some extent, Thủ Thiêm represents a response to this. But more than anything, Thủ Thiêm symbolizes a break with the past. It is the new Vietnam: dynamic, outward looking, and eager to unburden itself of the shackles of history.

Questions are already being raised about inclusivity. It is unlikely that the proposed homes for 130,000 residents are going to be in the affordable bracket. Conservative figures for the projected number of jobs created by the scheme (350,000) are likely to silence such critics. A harder question to answer is whether the redevelopment of a large wetland area will have any significant ecological impact. The master plan makes allowances for the preservation of some areas, as well as the construction of managed wetlands. Whether these design decisions are purely aesthetic or will have actual value as green infrastructure assets remains to be seen. For the time being, the project continues apace, part of the larger ambitions of the rapidly developing Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Thủ Thiêm invites a question familiar to Saigon’s citizens: what is the price of progress? Is your city developing outwards or upwards? How is development affecting your city? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments area below. 

Credits: Images by Joey Donovan. Data linked to sources.

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Joey Donovan graduated from the University of Greenwich (London, UK) with a B.A. in Landscape Architecture in 2011. Following graduation he worked in a succession of small practices while studying for a postgraduate diploma, which he achieved in 2014...

  • I encourage all interested in Thu Thiem to check out a video we did in November 2014 regarding Thu Thiem and its attractive development prospects, so one can really get an idea of the scope of the opportunities present there for global urban development: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gn3jC8yKvVM

  • Thank you for your comment, Keith, though I’m not sure what your video is saying beyond: “Look, some land! Let’s build!”. Sure, it’s potentially a great real estate opportunity, but is that an opportunity without consequence?

  • Joey, to field your question, there’s a reason why Ho Chi Minh City is one of the last urban development gems remaining in the world, and it is in the report that goes with our Youtube video @ http://squawkonomics.com/2015/03/20/the-global-urban-land-rush/. We have empirically determined through our LS Index that Ho Chi Minh City’s empty land so near HCM’s tallest skyscraper presents an outlier opportunity that is present in almost no other commercial cities in the entire world. Hence, the opportunities present in the Thu Thiem region have been much understated, and I highly encourage you read our free report to convince yourself of this market anomaly opportunity.

  • Ben Donovan

    Its been a while since I saw any pictures of HCMC, and it has certainly gone up, I think I remember 1 high large office high rise there in 2007.
    If you’re interested in this topic of green space management under pressure from pop. growth,lucrative urban development and where applicable corruption, then I recommend taking a look at the example of Mumbai. With the bulk of the city constrained to island development, land demand pressures are higher than they otherwise would be. Yet despite this, it amazes me that the city has for the most part succeeded in keeping the national park, (which occupies a large portion of the isand’s northern half) off limits. Questions about inclusivesivity are also highly relevant with regard to the acquisition and redevelopment of Dharavi slum (slumdog millionaire setting). Formely landfill and of little interest, it since been encircled by urban sprawl and now sits on prime real estate. Its been a while since i checked in on the matter, but time i did, there was a lot of concern for the exclusion of slum residents. It would be interesting to see how this inclusivity fairs up in this HCMC project. Good article joe!

  • Hi Ben!

    I think inclusivity is quite low down the priority scale. The Mumbai parallel is an interesting one, and I shall look into it.

    I definitely feel that the reason Thủ Thiêm has resisted development is the cost issues, and only now do the potential revenues make the engineering of mass-drainage profitable.

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