Saving French-style villas an urgent task
Last week, Viet Nam News asked readers about the need to preserve Ha Noi's French-style villas, particularly granting private ownership to individuals. Here are some responses:
Statistics from Ha Noi Male Health and Infertility Hospital showed that 10 out of every 100 couples have problems related to infertility and can not have children.
In many cases, these couples have to depend on another woman who will be a surrogate, having the couple's sperm and eggs implanted in her uterus.
However, gestational surrogacy is banned in Viet Nam's Law on Marriage and Family. This legislation that took effect in 2000 and mandates fines of between VND30-40 million (US$1,428-1,904) for violations.
The Ministry of Justice is considering a review of the ban on surrogacy using in vitro fertilisation and is seeking public feedback on the issue.
Some have raised concerns that legalisation of surrogacy will lead to a rush of women hoping to make a quick profit, while others say surrogacy is the only solution for the rapidly growing number of infertile couples.
What do you think about this issue, and is surrogacy legal in your country? Do you think the law should be amended, and if yes, which legal conditions should be regulated to protect the rights of the babies and the women bearing them as well as to settle disputes between couples and surrogates?
Please reply by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax to (84-4) 3 933 2311. Letters can be sent to The Editor, Viet Nam News, 11 Tran Hung Dao Street, Ha Noi. Replies to next week's questions must be received by Thursday morning, August 30.
Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi
Ha Noi celebrated its 1000th two years ago, which is quite impressive. What a better way to celebrate than to create jobs for the future while preserving the past? Take your surviving French colonial buildings and renovate them. Create safe affordable housing by selling them to students, small businesses and newly-minted co-operative associations.
I love history, and as a guest in your capital city, I also love a good night's sleep. I would much rather stay in a well-kept historically accurate colonial bed & breakfast than some international corporate hotel. This city has a "perfect storm" of opportunity in real estate development.
Ha Noi has lots of tree-lined streets, quite a few parks, more tourists each year and an increasing foreign direct investment market. Add a young workforce and you have a ripe opportunity just waiting to be developed. City hall along with the national government could create a special department to draft a plan to manage your historical buildings.
Set a timeframe, take an inventory and assess the market potential of managing 10 per cent of the buildings for historical & cultural value. Open some libraries and hi-tech net cafes/job training centres. Sell another 10 per cent to foreign businesses at a premium rate.
New owners can create a new interior providing they maintain the physical integrity of the exterior. I imagine lots of new tenants, pride of ownership and increased real estate value. Raise your nation's pride and increase citizen involvement through private housing ownership. I see no downside and a better night's sleep for everyone involved.
Le Thi Hien Giang, Vietnamese, Ha Noi
As someone who grew up in this city, I have always loved driving along streets like Hoang Dieu or Dien Bien Phu that are lined with French colonial villas. I think for many years, preservation efforts have mostly focused on the Old Quarter and we've wasted the opportunity to preserve and really make the French villas places where people can identify with the city's lingering history.
I've read somewhere that Ha Noi actually has the highest number of European-style architectural works in Indochina, even more than cities in Laos and Cambodia which were also French colonies.
Many are occupied by government offices and foreign embassies and organisations, and others have been allocated to government employees as houses. Similar to the fate of old buildings in the Old Quarter, many villas now host up to 50-60 people, which has significantly altered their original architecture.
I think allowing private ownership of these villas is a good way to preserve them, but there must be regulations and liability that go along with it. There should be a comprehensive study on the conditions and most updated data (ownership, location, etc) of these villas.
The Government can take ownership of some of these villas and open them up to the public. It's also a great way to teach young people about history and make it come alive. There are too many high-rise buildings elsewhere already. If Ha Noi lost these villas, it would certainly lose part of its charm.
Tiffany Sakato, American-Japanese, US
I first came to Ha Noi in December 2007 and was immediately captured by the tranquillity there, at least in some downtown streets where you can walk alongside French villas.
I think for the tourists, it's a great experience if they can get to know the city by emerging themselves in the past. I've been to many European countries, and frequently you get to stay in old buildings (even castles). These places, which are often government-run, are open for tourists and the money generated from them goes back into preservation efforts.
I think privatising the ownership of the villas is a move in the right direction.
However, you obviously don't want the investors to wipe them out and replace them with high-rise buildings or stores. So the Government still has to play a supervisory role. There should be strict criteria that investors must follow.
Classification of these villas would certainly help with preservation. I think those that have already been altered should be left alone to the residents' wishes, whether they want to renovate them or not.
The government should only focus on preserving those that have special cultural and historical values.
Look at what the Hotel Sofitel Metropole in Ha Noi has done with the discovery of its bomb shelter. It's now one of the hotel's most interesting spots. In many countries, preservation also means tying the place with a story. What are the stories behind these villas? I would love to find out.
Pham Duc Kien, Vietnamese, Ha Noi
I don't think the residents living in these villas would want to leave or could afford to buy the entire villa. We have been talking so much about preserving the Old Quarter but still, there are still many problems associated with asking residents to move out. So much talk, but little has been done.
I have the sense that villas occupied by embassies, foreign organisations and government offices are those that still have their own distinctive architectural and cultural values. Why bother with those that are already on the verge of collapsing or that require a complete revamp?
Without real commitments from the people in charge, and with this current rate of urbanisation, we could very well lose an important part of the city's past. — VNS