|Colourful display: Thong Nhat Park in Ha Noi is home to big trees that provide shade and a relaxing ambience. — VNA/VNS Photo Nguyen Viet Ton
|Budding gardeners: Flower beds in Ha Noi's many parks take a lot of care and attention. — VNA/VNS Photo
|Trees on the mind: Old trees in Ha Noi are frequently mentioned in poems. Streets are associated with trees. Nguyen Du Street brings to mind hoa sua (Alstonia scholaris) trees, Tran Hung Dao conjures up memories of sau trees. — VNA/VNSPhoto Minh Quyet
|Overhanging budget: Ha Noineeds $335 million to invest in planting and sustaining more trees.— VNA/VNSPhoto Anh Tuan
City planners have decided trees are important in an urban environment. Children growing up amid nature have better health, while walking in parks helps reduce blood pressure, stress and obesity. The problem is selecting the right trees and maintaining them. Ha Nguyen
Despite being ranked below average overall in the Asian Green City Index last year, Ha Noi is still considered one of the greenest cities in Viet Nam thanks to its beautiful and precious trees.
Ancient trees in Ha Noi are frequently mentioned in poems. Each street can be represented by a tree: when you speak about Nguyen Du Street, you are reminded of hoa sua (Alstonia scholaris) trees, and walking on Tran Hung Dao, sau (dracontomelon duperoanum) trees come to mind.
"To us, the hundred-year old trees that once lined the streets were more than just beautiful, they were part of the city's identity," said 85-year-old Trinh Hoa Binh on Tran Hung Dao Street.
"The trees on my street had small green fruit that turned yellow before ripening. My friends and I often played under their shady branches when I was a boy."
Sau trees hold a special place in the hearts of local people. Binh said that when he was young, the street was very quiet, especially in the morning, when the only sounds were of birds singing in the branches. "The road was beautiful in the afternoon when the leaves fell. But as a kid I loved the fruit more than anything else. Ripe in the late spring and early summer, it was delicious dipped in sugar or salt," said Binh.
Despite the treasured place this tree has in the heart of the local residents, Hanoians don't seem to have a lot of concern when construction workers chop them down. Workers get away with digging around the trees without much care, Binh said, and even leave the trees without enough earth to grow - making them vulnerable to storms.
A storm last August that wrecked havoc on the country's north and centre, killing three people, one in Ha Noi, also damaged more than 200 trees in the capital city.
Taxi driver Pham Anh Tuan was crushed to death by an ancient tree on Lo Duc Street, making people very concerned for their own safety.
"Since Tuan's accident we have been more afraid of going out on the street during heavy rain and storms because trees could fall down on us at any moment," said Luong Xuan Hai.
To deal with the problem, Ha Noi authorities have started a project of replanting trees.
Nguyen Xuan Hung, deputy general director of Ha Noi Parks and Green Trees Company, said each of the capital's streets will be planted with two or three sorts of tree.
For example, the company has planted bang lang (lagerstroemia speciosa) trees along Kim Ma and Van Cao streets and willow trees along Buoi Road and the To Lich River and around West Lake.
"Many willow trees died during the last two stormy seasons. So we had to replace them with cassia trees," he said. "We also planted two kinds of trees in between, such as cassia and milk-flower trees along Le Van Luong Street and several others. Our aim is to plant trees that create shade during summer, particularly sustainable trees that can endure storms and the harsh climate."
Next year, Ha Noi will plant more sustainable trees including sau (cassia, lagerstroemia speciosa) and sua (dalbergia tonkinensis) trees along thoroughfares such as Tran Duy Hung and Xuan Thuy, said Hung.
He estimates the city has more than 10,000 xa cu (khaya senegalensis) trees along main streets and roads. The trees grow quickly and offer significant shade but also have hollow fasciculate roots that damage pavement.
"Many xa cu trees often fall down during storms due to urban development," said Hung, adding that the city also has thousands of sau trees planted when the French colonised Viet Nam nearly 100 years ago.
"Sau trees are green year-round but it takes about 5-6 years to cultivate seedlings," Hung said, adding that the company will grow more bang lang and muong trees which do not have such large canopies, but can endure heavy rain and storms.
Architect Dao Ngoc Nghiem, deputy chairman of the Ha Noi Association of Planning and Urban Development, said that the capital is replanting trees and flower gardens so the entire inner city can have 60 parks and flower gardens by 2030.
Apart from continuing to plant sustainable trees along streets and urban roads, Ha Noi needs to protect the fragile forests in Soc Son, Ba Vi and Huong Tich and also near rivers and lakes.
"The historical parks of Co Loa and Soc Temper will be linked with urban parks such as West Lake Water Park, the Botanical Garden and Thong Nhat Park in order to create massive green areas inside the city," said Nghiem.
The plan includes the building of eco-parks connecting agriculture and tourism such as the Ca Lo River Eco-Tourism, the Dong Anh Eco Tourism site, ASEAN culture village, the Kim Quy Culture Park and Wonderland Park.
The city needs more than VND7,000 billion (US$335 million) to invest in growing trees, parks, flower gardens and lakes until 2015, said Nghiem, adding that Ha Noi should send experts and researchers to Singapore and South Korea to learn how to better protect trees along streets and parks.
Pham Ngoc Dang, chairman of the Viet Nam Construction and Environment Association, said green trees are very important for urban people during industrialisation.
He said researchers have discovered that if people, particularly children, live in nature, their health will be much better regardless of their social class.
He quoted Dr Richard Mitchell from Glasgow, the UK, as saying, "Physical training or even simply walking in a green park helps balance blood pressure and reduce stress. Green space helps reduce the rate of obesity."
Dang said more people should be made aware of the importance of protecting trees in communities.
He said people in Nanning, China, placed great value on planting trees. They imported mango trees from Viet Nam to grow along many of their streets.
"The city authorities assigned a family to take care of the trees and collect ripe fruits to sell. Those who carry out the work well will be rewarded while those who do not fulfil their responsibility will be punished accordingly," said Dang, adding that since the 1960s Singapore had imposed heavy punishments on such violations in order to make local people aware of the importance of protecting trees and the environment.
|City oasis: Trees in Ha Noi bring residents close to nature and help them ignore the dust and emission pollution. — VNA/VNS Photo Nguyen Viet Ton
Architect Khiem said Ha Noi should choose trees that meet both practical and aesthetic criteria. Specifically, they should be sustainable enough to grow in urban areas that could suffer from strong winds, storms and floods but also improve the city's landscape and clean environment.
" Trees to be planted in the city must have tap roots and medium shade," said Khiem. The trees approved by the authorities include vang anh (saraca dives), lat hoa (chukrasia tabularis), me (tamarindus indica), sua (dalbergia tonkinensis), sao den (hopea odorata roxb), nhoi (bischofia trifoliate rixb), phuong vi (delonix regia) and hoang lan (cananga odorata).
Meanwhile, architect Dao Ngoc Thanh said apart from growing more trees and building more green parks, the city should promote green architecture to curb environmental pollution.
He said green architecture has become an urban development trend in the country over the past decade. The trend of developing more energy-saving buildings was increasingly emerging in major cities such as Ha Noi and HCM City.
Thanh warned, however, that green construction may push investment costs two or three times higher than normal designs, making people hesitate to invest in green structures despite the environmental benefits. — VNS