Where the Streets Have No Name

Vietnam’s urban expansion hasn’t always gone to plan and some areas, particularly on the outskirts of Hanoi, remain uncompleted and unoccupied. They’re not ghost towns, but they might as well be. Photos by Julie Vola. Words by Jesse Meadows


A bandoned places usually have history; but these townships or suburbs never got the chance. Built in the frenzy that was Hanoi’s urban expansion, they were made to impress investors and speculators, not your average citizen. But now, too expensive and unnecessarily large, they sit empty on the outskirts of the city, buildings with no past.


Our favourite urbanist Danielle Labbe has counted around 50 of these new forgotten towns. She shared a map of her findings with us, so we sent our photgrapher into the field for a bit of urban exploration.


Her first stop was Lideco. About 16km outside the city centre off the Highway 32 this new urban area has around 500 to 700 houses, but only 100 are occupied. At least one-third were never finished and some of the land inside the township is being used to grow vegetables.


What Could Have Been


Some residents, like university professor Ngoc Anh, seized the opportunity to buy a cheap house when the market crashed two years ago. He likes the peace and quiet, he says, and the fresh air. Others say it’s lonely, and sometimes a bit scary. If something bad happens, there’s no one around to hear it.


Wandering the town is eerie. Some of the empty houses have become homes for chickens and ducks. The vegetation has taken over in a way that feels like the end of the world, but there are still isolated areas of human activity, and the occasional sound of a child's laughter.


It’s enough to make you realise what could have been and what might still be — a bustling suburb with markets, schools, medical clinics and people on the edge of the city.


Yet like other urban areas we visited such as Van Canh in Hoai Duc and Bao Son Paradise on the edge of My Dinh, Lideco is unlikely to have much of a future. Without residents it will wither and die.


It’s possible this path may change. But whether one day the unoccupied houses will be occupied, and the unfinished structures finished, is yet to be seen.

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