Architect and urban planning specialist Pho Duc Tung, formerly with the Viet Nam Forestry University, trained in Germany for 15 years in philosophy, architecture and planning. He tells Bui Quynh Hoa that the capital city has displayed a lack of sensitivity and know-how needed for urban tree planting.
Inner Sanctum: Please give us an overview as well as an assessment of street trees in Ha Noi.
Ha Noi has many street trees, but they are not evenly distributed. There are districts with many trees, like the former French quarter and the new areas like Ciputra, Vinhome and Ecopark. Other areas have very few street trees like Hoang Mai and Dong Da districts.
Since the districts with few trees are those with very high population density, the per capita green space in Ha Noi is not high compared to many other cities.
The type of trees in Ha Noi differ according to planting periods. The French used to plant big shading trees. The first period of socialism preferred flowering medium-sized trees. The newer open period since 1990 planted mostly low value, fast growing trees to cover the urban boom. In the last few years, because the city's growth is slowing down, there is a trend to return to large tree species.
Besides, Ha Noi's street trees are of poor quality. Most of the existing trees do not have the required quality for urban areas. Many of them are ill, (especially those planted during the French period) because they are old and have not been cared for properly. Those planted in the period that followed are mostly ill because they do not have enough room for the crown and enough earth for the roots. Those planted in the renewal period are fast growing trees with many characters not suitable in urban space.
Inner Sanctum: Ha Noi was a small, green city, but it has developed rapidly. What should we do to remain green as it turns into a big developed capital?
In a small city, trees and greenery are a question of awareness, taste and care from the people and the Government. In a big city, you need in addition a lot of technology and money. The planting of trees in big city requires totally different, complicated technology. Tree planting should be considered part of infrastructure and be planned and implemented together with other infrastructure facilities. Ha Noi has lately been enlarged to one of the largest cities of the world, but mentally and technically, we are not prepared for this step. In the field of urban greening, neither the awareness nor the planning or the appropriate management mechanisms have been in evidence.
Inner Sanctum: Do you think Ha Noi should have trees typical to it? Should they be planted in monoculture alleys or dispersed in the interests of biodiversity? Which tree do you think best resembles Ha Noi?
If you plant urban street trees properly, each city will have its own typical trees, which will create typical landscapes and images. You will need to carry out research for many years to create relatively good manmade conditions for a tree species, then you will need many more years to have them prepared in nurseries.
As to monoculture or diversity, there is no fixed formula for such decisions. It depends on the space each street has. In general, if a street is big and has a unified and representative character, one tree species should be chosen. But if it is a very busy, commercial road, with different architectural features, different spaces, different widths of pavements, etc, diverse species would be more suitable.
For me, the hoa sua (alstonia) trees are the most remarkable ones linked to my image of Ha Noi. But it is a mistake to think that there should be a lot of them to enforce this image (which has led to a problematic wave planting this tree in the last decade).
Inner Sanctum: As a Hanoian, can you say something about your memory and secrets related to trees in the street?
My impression about my childhood is a house, alstonia and bang (terminalia catappa) trees. For a child like me, each tree was a whole world, a wonder. The fragrance of the alstonia, the fruit and the red leaves of the terminalia, the birds, the cicadas singing, even the caterpillars were fascinating. I think, for the citizens, the representative view of a monocultural alley is not as important as the ecological microworld which each tree creates around it.
So we need to rethink evaluation categories for urban trees. The existing system only considers the technical side of it, and almost ignore the social, cultural and ecological aspects.
Inner Sanctum: Have you got any suggestions for the planning and planting of street trees in Ha Noi?
As I said before, street tree planting in a big city is not only a question of awareness, but also of technology and money. So it will be a long time before Ha Noi can change and be able to plant trees properly. But at least, it should begin with the awareness, and the city government should understand the difficulties involved in urban tree planting. At the very least, it will prevent such crimes as trying to kill 6,700 trees. — VNS