Green urban growth: making a city worth living in

May 23, 2024 - 09:03
In order to address the inadequacies and challenges in urban planning and management which the country is facing, Việt Nam needs to build a sustainable strategy for urban development towards green and sustainable growth.
Dr. and Architect Ngô Viết Nam Sơn. — Photo courtesy of Sơn

HCM CITY — In order to address the inadequacies and challenges in urban planning and management which the country is facing, Việt Nam needs to build a sustainable strategy for urban development towards green and sustainable growth.

Many localities across the country have begun to pay more attention to developing green cities, green buildings and ecological urban areas in proactively adapting to climate change. Dr. and Architect Ngô Viết Nam Sơn, president of NgoViet Architects & Planners, speaks about these topics with Việt Nam News reporter Nguyễn Diệp.

How do you evaluate the development of green buildings in urban areas in Việt Nam?

The concept of sustainable and environmentally-friendly urban and rural development was formed and developed in the 1950s.

Sustainable development goals have become increasingly popular around the world since the late 20th century, with the first international summits on the environment and action programmes on human and environmental issues, along with the application of green building standards in many countries.

Due to economic difficulties after the war, it was not until the beginning of the 21st century that Việt Nam began to integrate sustainable development goals into its development strategy.

However, up to now, the country does not have mandatory regulations applicable to green buildings. Green building development is being carried out in a voluntary manner, and the results are rather modest.

By 2023, the number of green buildings in the country will only reach a modest number, about 300 buildings with a total area of 7.2 million sq.m of floor area.

The green development strategy is gradually being paid more attention and included in the national development strategy.

In your opinion, how has the importance of green space in the planning, investment and development of ecological urban areas changed?

In the early stages of development, from the urban development boom in the early 1990s to about a decade ago, investors focused on maximising the concrete area to achieve the highest benefits.

In recent years, due to the environmental impacts of the concrete trend, like increasing traffic jams and urban flooding, they have paid more attention to green and sustainable development and responding to climate change and environmental pollution.

Currently, more and more investors and businesses are setting criteria for developing green buildings and green or ecological cities as particularly important values of their urban projects.

From practical experience, construction of green buildings may require an increase of about 3-8 per cent compared to traditional investment capital, but will give benefits in the long term, such as reducing environmental impact, saving operating costs, reducing up to 30 per cent of energy use, 40 per cent of CO2 emissions, 50 per cent of water use and 60 per cent of waste treatment costs.

Can you share some more models and experiences in developing green and ecological cities that we can refer to for large cities like HCM City?

In order to quickly increase the green area for urban areas, it is necessary to have comprehensive measures such as protecting the remaining public green spaces, and not grant licenses for projects that may encroach on existing green spaces.

Secondly, it is necessary to adjust strategic planning and orientation, cease the construction of high-rise buildings in the inner city, and shift them to new urban areas so that there is no longer a reason to cut down trees to expand roads and build bridges.

Thirdly, it needs to reserve at least two thirds of the area for public green space when renovating and developing the remaining large land funds in inner city areas such as Thanh Đa, Tân Thuận Export Processing, Sài Gòn Port and Trường Thọ port after relocation.

The fourth issue is protecting and expanding green corridors along interconnected rivers and canals. The fifth issue is encouraging local residents to create green roofs, facades, walls and gardens.

Next, it is necessary to offer preferential policies for projects that are implemented in accordance with green building and planning criteria according to standards of Lotus developed by the Vietnam Green Building Council, Edge (IFC-WB), LEED (U.S. Green Building Council) and Green Mark (Singapore).

Finally, it needs to develop new urban areas following the direction of green and ecological growth, with modern technical infrastructure and full social infrastructure following advanced green urban models in Paris, Singapore and Shanghai to boost depopulation, reduce population pressure in the inner city, and implement urban greening programmes easier.

Why is Việt Nam still in the group of countries with a low ratio of trees per capita in urban areas?

With the policy of renewal and international integration since the late 1980s, the country’s urban development has increased rapidly along with economic growth.

However, over a long period of time, the development trend of concrete has reduced green spaces in the inner city.

The green space per capita in HCM City's inner areas is only about half a square metre, while the city targets to reach 10sq.m of green space per capita.

However, this target is still not high compared to many cities in the world that have reached over 25-30sq.m of green space per capita.

This situation occurs due to influences from many sides, including investors, urban managers, and local residents in preserving and expanding green spaces.

Many natural green areas are being narrowed for economic benefits. What consequences will this lead to?

Reducing natural green areas is causing negative influences on the environment and life such as flooding in urban areas due to overloaded infrastructure while lacking green spaces.

Air and noise pollution have increased due to lack of green spaces.

Landslides and saltwater intrusion have been caused by lack of underground water sources because areas covered with concrete lead to a reduction of seepage of rain water into the ground.

Cities are also getting hotter and hotter due to the lack of urban green spaces that could help contribute to climate regulation. — VNS