Tapping the potential for riverside residential areas in Hà Nội

June 10, 2024 - 08:12
More than 80 per cent of respondents want public spaces to be turned into more playgrounds in their area, while over 60 per cent want more sport and fitness areas. Half of them wish they could have more riverside walkways in public spaces.
The Red River in Hà Nội. — VNS Photo Khánh Dương

Khánh Dương

HÀ NỘI — Nguyễn Văn Tân, a retiree living in a residential area along the banks of the Hồng (Red) River in Hà Nội’s Hoàn Kiếm District, has trouble finding a space to exercise in the morning, even though he lives near the waterfront area.

“I have to walk to nearby Hoàn Kiếm Lake to exercise. The spaces for walking, strolling and even exercising are all located on traffic roads, with motorbikes moving around, so it is quite dangerous for elderly people like me, or people in a poor state of health,” he said.

According to a recent survey of 308 Hà Nội residents in the two riverside wards of Phúc Tân and Chương Dương, 33 per cent of the interviewees said there is no public space within a five-minute walk from their houses.

The survey was conducted with the assistance of the Livable Hanoi Network and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

It showed that a significant number of local residents in the riverine areas along the Red River banks in Hoàn Kiếm District want these areas to be transformed into public amenities, including playgrounds, sports facilities, riverside walks, ecological areas and forest gardens.

More than 80 per cent of respondents want public spaces to be turned into playgrounds in their area, while over 60 per cent want more sport and fitness areas. Half of them wish they could have more riverside walkways in public spaces, said architect Phạm Anh Tuấn, one of the researchers from the Hanoi University of Civil Engineering.

Tân said: “I wish the area in front of my house would be turned into a playground where my grandchildren can have fun in the summer break.”

Nguyễn Mạnh Hà, director of the Centre for Nature Conservation and Development, said the alluvial island and riverine zones of the Red River in Hà Nội have lots of untapped potential.

“The green area per capita in Hà Nội remains low. The Red riverine zone can be transformed into an area for students’ outdoor activities and other sports activities for locals,” he said.

However, there is a lot of work to do to balance ecological and social needs and turn the area into a sustainable and inclusive space. The environment is a persistent problem.

Tuấn said the area is ecologically diverse, with 166 plants and 24 animal species. But the ecological space has recently been contaminated with junk.

Many areas along the riverbanks close to residential zones have become dumping grounds for household waste, plastic bags, construction debris and broken furniture, gradually turning into unauthorised landfills over time.

Tuấn said: “It is common to see garbage dumps with both domestic waste and construction waste illegally dumped on the roadside.”

“The river now has become a waste dump. Local residents are turning their back against the river. What they are doing completely goes against the desire to have a sustainable ecological space,” he said.

Construction and domestic waste dumped in the Red riverine area. — Photo courtesy of Phạm Anh Tuấn, Hanoi University of Civil Engineering

"The riverine areas, serving as a flood corridor along the Red River and protecting Hà Nội, are currently afflicted with severe air, soil and water pollution.

“A comprehensive approach to addressing the environmental pollution will rejuvenate the Red River, transforming it into a vital and ecologically significant corridor for Hà Nội,” he said.

Sabina Stein, assistant resident representative/head of governance and participation at the UNDP in Việt Nam said more can and should be done to improve environmental management in some areas in Hà Nội, citing that nearly half of the residents interviewed in the study reported health issues due to waste.

“While most households have access to waste collection services, illegal dumping persists. The community expresses readiness to source waste, particularly organic and recycled materials. Many don’t know how to do so,” she said.

She said the good news is most interviewed residents want to be part of the solution. They express a strong willingness to engage in sanitation activities and show interest in community-based solutions for waste management.

Many are also willing to contribute labour and resources to renovate playgrounds, walkways and ecological areas, she said.

Making Hà Nội a livable city

The banks of the Red River serve as a protective dyke, safeguarding the heart of Hà Nội from the river's flow and potential flooding.

The research team said transforming the space into a solution for environmental management would be reasonable and effective. In the long term, it would not only resolve the waste problem but also create more value for the ecology, economy, culture and society in Hoàn Kiếm and Hà Nội more broadly.

Tuấn said: “Right in the city centre, we have such a major space that is often forgotten. Why don’t we turn it into an area where our next generation can enjoy the space?”

“When turning the riverside zone into a community area, we should not leave local people behind," he added. "They should benefit from their own services in the area so that they will become protectors of the space and make it an ideal space.”

Tuấn agreed that "we should include an educational function in the community space".

“Instead of taking our children to travel 60-70km away from the city, we will have an open space to experience nature right in the city centre. Studies show that when children have contact with soil, it increases their bodies' defences.”

Lê Quang Bình, coordinator at the Livable Hà Nội Network, said: “A livable city must have green public space. Every tree is valuable when we are getting into the summer."

According to Bình, the second thing that makes a city livable is inclusivity. A livable city is a city not for any single group of people but for all. No matter if you are an elderly person, a child, a migrant or a local, you can all benefit, he said. — VNS