by Hoang Son
Talk about shooting oneself in the foot.
Some officials in the capital city feel it is okay to puncture our already feeble lungs, in the name of development, no less.
Last Friday, the Ha Noi Parking Company proposed to city authorities that they build a three-storeyed parking lot in the Thong Nhat Park.
Covering a quarter of the park's area at 10,000sq.m., the proposed parking lot would accommodate nearly 400 cars. The company estimates construction cost at VND 96 billion (US$4.5 million) and argues this investment is necessary to deal with the increasing number of automobiles that ply the city's roads.
Thong Nhat Park is currently one of the earliest and largest parks in the city, located in the central Hai Ba Trung District.
With a population of 7 to 8 million people, Ha Noi is already hard-pressed to balance socio-economic development with environmental preservation, and badly needs more "green lungs" to fight increasing pollution.
In this context, a park that attracts a large number of residents who are there everyday, seeking some fresh air, is worth its weight in gold.
Many residents have pointed out that the Thong Nhat Park is a historic site as well.
Standing in the park few days ago, I saw streams of people come into the park to do physical exercises, play football or badminton, or go jogging.
Many came with friends to relax after a hard-working day at the office, enjoying the green, open environment. There were many elderly people who brought their grandchildren and watched them run and play.
I decided to talk with some of the park-goers about the parking lot proposal. Most of them disagreed, some were clearly angry with the idea. A few said the proposal may benefit some people, but care should be taken to see that the construction does not affect the environment.
Resting on a bench in the park after jogging around the lake, Tran Van Luc, a sixty-year-old man, said he would oppose any plan to cut parts of the park and transform them into for-profit businesses.
He noted that there were already some restaurants and entertainment centres in the park, so the city should stop messing with it further. He wondered if there was any advanced technology to dig deep into the land without harming the trees and the environment.
Luc said if a part of the park was cut, more land would be used for other constructions. Where would the people go to get their exercise, to train in sports and do other healthy things, he asked.
Jogging along the lake in the park, Nguyen Quoc Viet, a 42-year-old lecturer of the National Economics University, said that he disagreed with the parking lot idea because it would eliminate a large area of the park and its trees.
Viet surmised that the company was keen on the project in Thong Nhat Park because "it stands in a district where most of the government agencies and enterprises are located, and their demand for parking is high".
Besides, he said, foreign companies would prefer to locate their businesses in or around the park because of the view, location and a readymade green environment.
He said it was easy to agree with the need for parking lots, but they should be built elsewhere, for instance, on the site of some unused buildings in the Ha Noi University of Science and Technology.
Nguyen Thi Hien, an office employee, emphatically rejected the idea. She goes to the park often with friends to enjoy some "fresh air" after working hard at the office.
She said everyone should worry that there were less and less public areas with trees and lakes like the Thong Nhat Park, so it was important to preserve it.
It cannot be denied that
there is a huge demand for parking space in the capital city. Car drivers and owners are parking their vehicles on the pavement and streets, often illegally.
Nguyen The Hong, a seventy-year-old retiree, said the parking lot would only create problems when it was under construction. After it was done, people would have an additional option to park their cars, he said.
But he also said that the Thong Nhat Park had witnessed major historical moments of the city, so planners and construction companies would have to ensure that the surface of the park, the trees and environment unchanged.
The area earmarked for
the proposed underground parking lot had earlier been selected to build a five-star hotel. However, in 2009, under public pressure, the Prime Minister ordered Ha Noi to stop the project.
The area has been left unused since then.
Pham Van Duc, Deputy Director of Ha Noi Parking Company, said that his firm was working to create the best benefits for residents. Not many companies would be ready to invest a huge amount of money in a parking lot to earn small profits, he said.
"Our company will build the parking lot on the foundation that was constructed for the hotel's basement," he said.
He also said that in all the different solutions that the company had proposed, the company would plant small trees and place decorations on the surface, and remove the fence to connect the parking lot to other areas of the park.
He said the area would only be used for car parking. No other business, including restaurants, would be allowed to function in the area, he said.
It can be said that there
is an obvious need for parking lots as living standards increase and more people buy private cars.
But we should do a cost-benefit analysis, and see what would serve the common good better.
How many people will benefit if parking space is created for 400 cars at the cost of millions of dollars?
The city has already cut 40,000 square metres of the Thong Nhat Park to build a parking lot, to expand a street, and contribute to the construction of urban railway project.
Now that we have very little green areas in the city, should we not focus on efficient public transportation projects that will reduce the need for more private cars and motorbikes?
New York City is one of the most densely populated places on earth, I would think, but would the authorities build a badly needed parking lot in the famous Central Park?
Should we take preventive steps or create (or worsen) a problem and then try to find solutions? — VNS