Architect Đỗ Viết Chiến, a former director of the Urban Development Department, under the Ministry of Construction speaks to the Tiền Phong (Vanguard) newspaper about current problems faced by Hà Nội in urban planning and what city authorities should do to solve the problem
In your opinion what are the stumbling blocks that Hà Nôi faces in urban planning?
I should say Hà Nội has rather comprehensive tools for overall planning in general, and zoning in particular; or in urban design and management regulations. However in reality, the city faces a number of challenges in turning planning and development management into reality. For example, in 1992, in the general planning approved by then Prime Minister Võ Văn Kiệt, the four central districts of Hoàn Kiếm, Ba Đình, Đống Đa and Hai Bà Trưng should be capped in their development, with a population of some 800,000 people, and a density of 45m2 per capita. But nowadays, the population in these four districts has jumped to 1.2 million. A key reason behind the high population density is the appearance of so many high-rises in those areas.
Does that mean city authorities have ignored the then Prime Minister’s order?
In my opinion, the construction of tall buildings in the central districts has not run counter to city planning. Just take the case of Singapore as an example. The dominant construction in that City State is tall buildings. But these buildings are not haphazard in design, and do not go against the idea of building gardens within the city. In my opinion, the task of granting construction licences should go hand in hand with investment in infrastructure development.
A recent report filed by the Hà Nội municipal authorities said that inspection visits to many tall buildings around the city have not revealed any errors in infrastructure construction. Is this true?
No one can negate the fact that Hà Nội’s population is increasing heavily year on year. And we all agree that only a decrease in population will help improve the infrastructure area per capita. But in reality, the population is increasing year on year, but the land area remains the same. In such a situation how can we stick to the planning criteria?
Housing developers are very clever in taking advantage of loopholes in construction law. For example, in their construction, the developers have tried to increase the number of floors as well as the floor space in each project. In their construction proposal, the developer may say that their apartment is designed for a single couple. But a few years later they will have children. This is a key reason behind the building infrastructure construction becoming overloaded!
Why is there a height restriction in a certain high-end real estate?
For investors, the location of the land is very important. But for urban management people they have to put the common interest of the general public and that of the urban area at the core of every decision. If Hà Nội has not been able to solve the infrastructure problem, it should not talk about the granting of permits to build high-rises.
What should Hà Nội do to solve the current problem of heavy traffic congestion?
As we all know inner city land clearance is very expensive. That’s the key reason why investors have tried their best to recapture their invested money by whatever means necessary. Traffic congestion is only an indication of the bigger problem – much like someone running a high fever. In my opinion, it is beyond our capacity to control the influx of people coming into the inner city.
In my opinion, Hà Nội should encourage people to move to the city’s outlying districts or to the north of the Red River.
In addition, we should adopt a specific plan to move industrial production enterprises, public hospitals which are subjected to the management of the Ministry of Health and universities to Hà Nội’s outlying districts. In my opinion, that’s the best option to solve the problem of heavy traffic congestion in Hà Nội’s city centre.
Last but not least, the government should adopt a vision of land use in the next 30-50 years to call on investment. — VNS