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Hanoi combines some of the worlds’ highest human densities with scarce public spaces. Green spaces are very limited too, even by the standards of Asian cities.
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GREEN SPACE PER PERSON IN ASIAN CITIES (m²/per capita)

VIDEO       Hanoi, what is your public space?
This section provides a picture of the evolution of public spaces in Hanoi between 2000 and 2010 in terms of spatial distribution, quality, and use.

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2000-2010

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The evolution of Hanoi’s public spaces differs according to the type of space:

PUBLIC GARDENS

11 new public gardens. Over 125,000 m² added in ten years. Accounting for population growth, this represent a slight increase of .02 m² per capita.

2000

hectares
m² per capita

2010

hectares
m² per capita

PARKS

10 new parks. Nearly 1 million m² of new park space created in a decade. But not enough to match population growth. Overall, Hanoi per capita park space decreased by .61 m² between 2000 and 2010.

2000

hectares
m² per capita

2010

hectares
m² per capita

BODIES OF WATER

A dramatic diminution. Hanoi lost half of its bodies of water. Over a hundred disappeared. This represents a loss of over 1.5 million m² of water by surface area and a dramatic per capita decrease from over 11m² to less than 5m² of water by surface area per person.

2000

hectares
m² per capita
224   BODIES OF WATER

2010

hectares
m² per capita
123   BODIES OF WATER

MAPS

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PUBLIC GARDENS

PARKS AND BODIES OF WATER

Distribution of public gardens in 2000 and 2010
Public Gardens in 2000. New Public Gardens in 2010.
Distribution of parks and bodies of water in 2000 and 2010
Parks in 2000. New Parks in 2010.
Water Bodies in 2010. Lost Water Bodies from 2000.

We can see from these maps…

Between 2000 and 2010, the creation of new public gardens was rather well distributed throughout Hanoi’s urban districts. The same cannot be said of parks, which were primarily established in peripheral zones to the south and west of the inner-city during that same period.

ILLUSTRATION OF BODIES OF WATER SHRINKAGE OVER THE 2000s

Move Slider Right (before) and Left (after)

In the area of Khương Trung
Bodies of Water    Reclaimed Land
In the area of Bồ Đề lake (Long Bien district)

Despite the loss of many small bodies of water, the city of Hanoi made a significant effort to beautify and improve the remaining shore areas. This occurred through the installation and renovation of benches, sports facilities, walkways and promenades, and, trees and flowerbeds.

 

These improvements have made many lakes and ponds throughout the city better able to play a role as public space. In many cases, nearby residents have intensified the use they make of shore promenades and facilities, especially during morning hours. These same space are however under threat by private encroachment, especially in the evenings when they are occupied by coffee shops and other commercial activities.

ILLUSTRATION OF THE BEAUTIFICATION OF PROMENADES IN THE 2000s

In Trích Sài area, West lake
Xã Đàn lake

POLICIES

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VISIBLE IMPACT:

Formal policies guiding the production and management of public spaces in Hanoi evolved considerably since the early 2000s. The last fifteen years have not only seen a sharp increase in the number of policy documents concerned with public spaces, but also witnessed considerable evolution of their content.

Five major changes stand out:

  • While the question of urban public spaces was previously dealt with as an indistinct component of the “social infrastructure” that cities need to be equipped with, recent policies now address these components of the city directly;
  • The Vietnamese planning model, once highly functionalist, is moving towards a more systemic, qualitative, and integrated urban development and management approach;
  • Policy-makers show a greater awareness for the positive and multifaceted (social, environmental, public health, and, aesthetic) contributions that public spaces make to Vietnamese cities;
  • The introduction of urban design considerations in key policies translates into greater attention being paid to the spatial quality of public spaces; and,
  • There is recognition of the need to protect the various public spaces in cities from degradation and encroachment by private or commercial activities.
VISIBLE IMPACT:
Rising awareness about these issues among policy makers, planners, and local authorities
+
New understanding of the important contributions that these places make for the liveability of Vietnamese cities
=
Overall increase in the number of public spaces and their total area
However…

New policy orientations still lack coercive measures to effectively enforce them. Public space policies remain centred on the spatial distribution of two-dimensional surfaces and on quantitative targets (square metres per person, minimal surface areas, service radii, etc.).

Moreover…

Hanoi is still a long way from reaching the target of
7m2 of “green space outside of residential units” per capita set by the Ministry of Construction.
(Vietnam Building Code, 2008, art. 1.4.2)

A number of new “parks” have been built and managed by the private sector, the most popular ones being Hồ Tây Water Park and Mặt Trời Mới theme park (both on the shore of the West Lake). Such spaces are much appreciated among middle-class and affluent families but they remain unaffordable for lower-income households in Hanoi.

PUBLICNESS

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“Publicness” refers to the accessibility, openness and inclusiveness of public spaces. It serves to assess the degree to which users can access, use, appropriate, and engage with these places in cities in unencumbered ways. Recent research concurs to say that to attain the highest degree of publicness, an urban public space should have three broad qualities thematically organized as follow:

Be a universally neutral territory, free of coercive forces, inclusive, and pluralist (in the sense of acceptance and accommodation of social difference).

Provide users with space for social interaction, intermingling, and communication.

Symbolize and represents the collective rather than carrying images of individuality and privacy.

In this study, we began to assess the “publicness” of Hanoi’s public space by scoring 40 parks and public gardens located in urban districts. These places were evaluated in terms of: behavioural control; physical maintenance and the provision of facilities; and liveliness.
More work still remains to be done to complete this picture (for instance with regard to entry fees charged to users, design elements that limit access, and management practices) and extend it to other types of public spaces (squares, neighbourhood playgrounds, etc).

DEGREES OF PUBLICNESS IN HANOI’S PUBLIC SPACES

BEHAVIOURAL CONTROL
PHYSICAL MAINTENANCE AND PROVISION OF FACILITIES
LIVELINESS
BEHAVIOURAL CONTROL

(measures the presence or absence of security guards and their activity in the public space)

Guards' presence in Hanoi’s parks (n=17) and public gardens (n=16)

Cong Vien (parks)    Vuon Hoa (gardens)
PHYSICAL MAINTENANCE & PROVISION OF FACILITIES

(measured through qualitative assessment of parks and the upkeep of public gardens, and through a visual survey of available facilities)

The physical maintenance of Hanoi’s parks and public gardens is highly variable. The most common problem is the poor management of waste: overflowing garbage bins, trash strewn about pathways, and the poor quality of the water in those parks that include a small lake or pond.

Quality of parks and public gardens' maintenance (n=34)
Provision of facilities in Hanoi’s parks and public gardens (n=34)

Most of Hanoi’s parks and public gardens provide an excellent or good variety of facilities to their users. Most common are small tea stalls, present in three out of four parks, and in nearly two-thirds of public gardens. Over two-thirds of parks and nearly a third of public gardens provide toilets for their users.

Tea Stalls in ...
WC in ...

CRITIQUE: Parks score much better than public gardens when in comes to the provision of public facilities. Over half of the public gardens surveyed were scored as “average” and nearly a quarter were scored as “poor” in this respect.

EXPLANATIONS: Official policies confine public gardens to a relatively narrow function; they are meant to be used for short rests only, and are not meant to support recreational activities.

LIVELINESS

(measured by the provision of amenities supporting social interactions, passive and active engagement in various activities)

Opportunities for passive engagement (n=34)

Nearly all of Hanoi’s public spaces offer diverse opportunities for passive engagement (benches, sitting, watching nature or other users). Also, nearly all of Hanoi’s parks (17 of 18) offer diverse opportunities for active engagement (sport fields, paved areas, paths). The number is much lower in gardens (5 of 16), but public gardens are generally much smaller than parks and tend to be designed to serve more “passive” functions.

USER’S PREFERENCES

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Likes

Natural environment qualities
– 62% of youths say they like public spaces for their fresh air, bodies of water, and greenery.
Social spaces
– 33% value parks because they offer a social venue to interact with friends, are animated places and offer a pleasant environment in the city.
Proximity to home or to a friends’ home
– 5% find parks conveniently located.

Dislikes

Poor environmental quality
– 45% of youths dislike the environmental quality of parks, including the bad odor of lakes, loose garbage, poor physical upkeep of facilities, and bugs
Overcrowding, small spaces, dogs off-leash
– 14% disliked the over-saturated spaces in parks.
Accessibility constraints
– 21% deplore entrance fees, the high price of food and drinks on offer in parks, and other physical and budgetary constraints.
Security issues and transgressive behaviours
– 7% dislike the poor or absent lighting at night, the practice of forbidden activities by other users, and the presence of bad or unfriendly people.

YOUTH PERCEPTIONS ON THE COMMERCIALIZATION OF PUBLIC SPACES

Since the doi moi reforms, Hanoi has felt the pressure of a rapidly developing private sector. For public spaces, this translates into actual and potential encroachment by small and large commercial activities. Instances of such private encroachment includ

  • restaurants and cafés setting up on lake shores (especially at night);
  • vendors installing small stalls and plastic stools on the pathways and hard surfaces of parks and public gardens;
  • larger commercial structures being set up in parks for weeks ahead of annual festivities (e.g., lunar new year, mid-autumn festival);
  • commercial parking areas using the hard-surface areas of public spaces during the day time.

Note that youths hold multiple, but generally, less negative views about the presence of small, mostly informal, tea stalls in Hanoi’s parks.

YOUTH OPINIONS ABOUT ENTRANCE FEES

Most of Hanoi’s large city parks charge an entry fee to users. Although generally used to finance maintenance, entry fees (and the booths where they are collected at entry gates) also serve to control who uses the park. Youths perceive these fees as a constraint: Although the fees are often very small, students in particular find them unaffordable. Youths in general dislike the surveillance at the gate of parks charging a fee. They also perceive the practice as arbitrary, because, in many parks different fees are charged to different users based on things such as the way the user is dressed or the time of day they enter.

 

The fee is not the financial barrier. [The problem is] the administrative barrier imposed on people who use the park. People may believe that they own the park and therefore that they can use it anytime they want. But actually they have to buy a ticket to use it, have to queue to buy a ticket, have to show the ticket to the guards. Each of these procedures makes them uncomfortable.” (interview, September 30, 2013).

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