A city transformed

Vietnam’s development is perhaps best expressed by the changing face of HCMC.

By Alfredo de la Casa on December 21,2014 07:50 AM

A city transformed

Like most big cities in the world, HCMC is undergoing continuous change. We have all seen the new roads and flyovers as well as many new buildings and skyscrapers around District 1.

Many of these constructions are needed to reach the level of progress sought by the city and especially its enterprises and citizens. What perhaps makes HCMC different to other cities is the speed at which all these are happening. Over the last three years major changes, mostly in District 1, have brought a selection of beautiful buildings to life, with the new Vincom Center being one example, but there are also many others built already or under construction, making the city centre start to look more like Hong Kong.

More changes are coming to accommodate the much-needed underground railway system, with key areas of the city closed to traffic, especially around Nguyen Hue, as the building of new stations proceeds. After opening in the near future, the underground railway will form part of a public transport system aimed at better and more environmentally-friendly travel, while at the same time reducing traffic congestion and pollution. Most of us just can’t wait for this dream to become reality.

Change, however, is not limited to District 1. One area experiencing a drastic makeover is neighbouring District 2. Readers may already be familiar with the luxurious Thao Dien area, where many luxury villas, apartment complexes and restaurants cater to rich Vietnamese and expats alike. District 2 has much more space than the city centre and so a lot more to offer. For example, the government plans to redevelop the Thu Thiem area into an alternative CBD and there is even talk of a marina being built, which would convert HCMC into a totally different, more modern, more appealing city to live in and to visit.

In between Thu Thiem and Thao Dien, and just half an hour or less from District 1, lies Binh Trung Dong, an area that is also experiencing major changes and will experience even greater changes soon. Like many areas in HCMC that border the popular central districts, Binh Trung Dong is seldom visited by tourists or expats, which is a pity because once there you realise that although it’s close to city centre the atmosphere and environment resembles the countryside, with canals, rivers and vast green areas that remind me of the Mekong Delta.

I recently moved to Binh Trung Dong, and my apartment, being next to the river, is great spot to watch fishermen using nets to haul in their daily catch, which are later sold at the nearby market. Another thing that fascinates me is watching a large herd of water buffalo come to drink and bathe in the river every dawn and dusk. It’s a wonderful feeling to view such a natural setting while also being so close to the heart of the city. I have a similar feeling when visiting nearby shops and restaurants, many of which are staffed by people who have never met foreigners before.

But I wonder how long this ‘countryside’ will last, as irremediable changes are on the horizon to fulfil the urgent needs of urban and national development in Vietnam.

For example, the HCMC-Long Thanh-Dau Giay expressway is under construction nearby. With work on the project happening 24/7 it will not be long before it’s finished, and the thousands of cars, trucks and motorbikes that will then use it are certain to destroy the tranquillity of the area. The water buffalo are no doubt observing the changes with patience and curiosity.

Such changes are necessary, however, to improve the infrastructure of the city and of the country as a whole, which is urgently needed and which will bring more prosperity to local people already benefiting from more enterprises and more jobs flooding into the area.

The good news is that part of the vast green area is rumoured to be dedicated to a new golf course, which if materialised would help not only to save part of the green landscape but also act as a green lung, cleaning the air of pollution from the increasing traffic on the expressway, which is one of the prices to be paid for progress and better and faster traffic networks.

Hopefully the water buffalo and other animals will be able to co-exist with modernity and local people can adapt and enjoy the opportunities that come with developments like luxury apartments such as Homyland or Parcspring that have been built nearby and that create more demand for food and goods as well as restaurants and many other basic services, which will result in more jobs and better incomes.

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