The area will span 221 hectares with a perimeter of 7.35km with parts of downtown streets such as Le Duan, Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Pasteur, Hai Ba Trung and Mac Dinh Chi becoming walking streets under the plan. It’s pretty exciting stuff and broadly in line with what other cities around the world are trying to do to curb pollution and reduce traffic accidents.
The authorities have been looking far afield; after last year’s first car-free day in Paris, the city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, closed the Champs Élysées to cars the first Sunday of every month and other European cities have also been opening up their roads and boulevards to pedestrian activities on weekends in order to encourage the use of the centre of cities. The European commission has encouraged this with a primary focus on eliminating conventionally fuelled cars in cities, geared towards a 60% cut in CO2 emissions by 2050.
What About Saigon?
Note the phrase “encourage the use of the centre of the city”. Not a problem here as District 1 is probably used too much. While the pedestrianisation idea is a great one, there are caveats. Cities are organisms just like living creatures and changing something that has grown organically can have unintended consequences.
I applaud the authorities for having the courage and foresight to tackle a very big problem in District 1 and would suggest that pedestrianisation may only be successfully achieved after the infrastructure and the systems to support it have been put in place. These include:
— A public transport system that makes connections inside the zone easy and convenient. I am a big advocate of the re-introduction of trams and linking them with the metro stations. By the way, monorails do not work.
— The improvement of the traffic crosslinks to other parts of the city. It seems crazy that to access Districts 7 or 2 from the airport you inevitably go through District 1. The development of a better ring road system will help solve this problem, which would leave District 1 as a destination not a thoroughfare.
— Dealing with the bikes. This is not going to be easy. District 1 has a population of approximately 250,000 people. Inside the 221-hectare area to be pedestrianised are a large number of residents as well as small family businesses that rely on the connections motorbikes bring. These connections cannot always be done out of hours. Removing or restricting these could spell the end of these businesses, forcing families to relocate and thus destroying much of the present character of the city.
Why you would want to make such an enormous change on the city centre of Ho Chi Minh City is to make it a more desirable place to live in, to work in and to visit? You would want to improve the economic value of the city and avoid the examples of cities where property prices have devalued and economic activity has been displaced to other areas once pedestrianisation was implemented without proper consideration.
Yes, the environment will be improved, but the questions the city’s authorities must ask themselves is: “Will this change make Ho Chi Minh City a more desirable place to visit? Will people living and working here be able to prosper economically by this? Will new businesses want to relocate here with their staff?”
If the answer is yes to all of these questions, then and only then it is worth implementing.
The change needs to respect everyone who lives here from the big corporations to the small businesses, all of whom give the city its incredible character.
Photo by Bao Zoan