The Suburbs

You’re wealthy, you live in Vietnam and you’ve got money to invest. So what do you do with it? With so many restrictions on taking money out of this country, your options are limited; gold, the stock market, business (the popular option these days is F&B) and real estate. While the expansion of the new suburbs is focused on creating new housing for a modern Vietnam and on relieving the pressures of high urban population density, there’s another motive at work — investing in real estate.


Yet building new suburbs and moving people from houses into apartments has other connotations; it affects and changes lifestyle. Despite being controlled by different regimes, in Saigon and Hanoi in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, apartment blocks were built to replicate the traditional living areas of Vietnam’s villages and cities. Whether the underlying ethos was socialist or capitalist, there was a focus on community; all the blocks had communal areas or public spaces, and internal passages that doubled up as alleyways.


The high-rise suburbs of today often miss this. A corridor is a corridor, it’s not a place to communicate or meet others. While there are definite exceptions, public spaces and in particular green spaces are at a minimum. Yet this doesn’t mean they should be dismissed.


Take a two-hour flight to Singapore and you can see how this city-state has put the high-rise model to good use. Over 5 million people crammed into an island the same size as Phu Quoc, and yet there is still greenery, still space to breathe, and an affluent lifestyle that has become the envy of the rest of Asia.


Will Vietnam be able to boast the same success? We don’t know. At the moment developers are obsessed with tapping into the middle class — unlike in Singapore, little focus is placed on the lower end. What we do know is that suburban living and Babel-like tower blocks are here to stay, with not a white picket fence in sight.


The suburbs. We welcome you, not with open arms, but with a knowledge that this is 21st-century Vietnam and that like you or not, you are here to stay.


Photos by Julie Vola, Jesse Meadows, Bao Zoan and Rodney Hughes


More in this category: « Those Who Got Away Khu Do Thi Moi »

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