Monday, 13 April 2015

A New Day

There's something special about waking up ahead of one's alarm, fully refreshed and eager to face a new day. It's like gaining time: whether it's one minute or one hour, somehow it feels like a victory. 

Dong Xoai, Tan Binh district

So it was a triumphant psychocartographer that awoke this morning, more than an hour before the dreaded alarm bells were due to ring. Outside, in the quiet side street to which I've recently moved, birds were singing gaily, and a soft yellow light was creeping out from behind the buildings opposite. Extra buoyancy was granted by the knowledge that a deadline was rapidly approaching. Regular readers (and again I ask if such a thing as a "regular reader" exists) will recall that I recently began an internship with Global Site Plans: my first draft post had been completed but lacked images, so I had to race over Th Thiêm to get some pictures.

Xe om driver, District One, HCMC

Problematically, my SD card was completely on the blink and needed replacing, necessitating a stop at District One. It was the first time in my five months in in HCMC that I'd braved the morning rush hour. Not for the first time I was grateful that I'd invested in a slightly-less-than-cool automatic underbone moped rather than a manual motorcycle: the traffic was so stop-start my leg may well have fallen off. Fortunately the worst of the traffic had abated by the time I arrived at the the tunnel beneath the River Sài Gòn, and I was able to observe the vast expanse of District 2. It's virgin territory, earmarked for development on a scale that dwarfs London's Olympic Park. 

View back to District One

The forthcoming post, which I shall link here as soon as it is online, is really a short overview of HCMC's current pattern of development. The proposed scheme at Th Thiêm is of particular interest to me as it a) involves reclaiming a huge natural wetland and b) is huge in scale. The master plan is to build an entire central business district from scratch, including an international airport and port facilities. Whilst it's easy to be sceptical of the efficacy of top-down planning of this magnitude, it's also easy to get caught up in the pervasive narrative of a dynamic Vietnam racing to catch up with its wealthier neighbours in South East Asia.

It's also of some concern that such a huge ecological asset is going to be compromised. The area is a vast wetland with a rich abundance of flora and fauna, but from a purely anthrocentric point of view it undoubtedly fulfils a valuable role in water management. Situated right in the centre of HCMC's municipality (though outside the traditional city limits), at a bend in the river Sài Gòn, the site is overspill for the limited drainage network of HCMC proper. HCMC's outlying wetlands have been drained and built upon; the traditional city's canal network was also greatly reduced during the inter-colonial (pre-unification era), making the city ever more vulnerable to flooding during he wet season. It's hard to see how the removal of 8,000 hectares of marsh will do anything to mitigate that vulnerability. 

Asian urban development projects have a respectable record when it comes to wetland management, particularly in China. The master plan for Th Thiêm makes provision for the preservation of existing wetlands and includes some artificial wetlands too. It is difficult to ascertain the efficacy of these provisions without a level of expertise that eludes me, however, and such design decisions can be aesthetic rather than functional. 

For the time being, however, judgement shall be reserved. It is, after all, a new day, and I'm feeling uncharacteristically optimistic.
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