Vietnam: Green Cities or Greenwashing?
Over the last decade, smart mobility has become a crucial topic in Vietnam. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have been paving the way to a green city model, especially in terms of inner city mobility. A transition toward sustainable transportation became imperative primarily due to air pollution and congestion–standstill due to traffic jam costs between 2 to 5 % of national GDP growth every year. The Vietnamese press continues to report on the ongoing development of the green city model, which is almost exclusively based on non-polluting mobility.
The press has highlighted how the Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City authorities have implemented strategies since 2011 which favor green mobility, with the financial support of international organizations such as the World Bank or the United Nations. For example, Ho Chi Minh City has set up a Bus Rapid Transit system, which transports 28,300 people a day as well as collecting localization data to help manage congestion. Promoted as a new development model, smaller cities like Hôi An have recently inaugurated a bike-sharing system to foster non-polluting transportation habits.
However, are investments in the mobility sector sufficient to make a green city? Recent research by Helga-Jane Scarwell and Divya Leducq defined the concept of ‘green city’ as a “city making conscious efforts to mitigate their environmental impact, reduce their waste, promote recycling, reduce harmful emissions, increase housing density while extending public spaces and fostering the development of local sustainable businesses”.
Although this political shift in favor of sustainable development can be perceived as a general positive evolution in terms of the environment and local inhabitants’ quality of life, Scarwell and Leducq’s research questions the green city policies in Vietnam. Firstly, the researchers point out that the country’s green development projects focus mostly on public transports issues within cities. Non-polluting mobility seems to be the star attraction of the Vietnamese green city model. Other issues such as renewable energy or waste recycling have only been developed to a limited degree. When it comes to broader green urban planning projects such as eco-districts or eco-parks, they rather benefit the privileged minorities who can afford innovative housing.
Moreover, the researchers even call into question the green friendliness of urban planning projects; they argue that plans of this kind simply reproduce the dominant urbanistic model. In this model, city governments are financially supported by international organizations such as the UN or the World Bank, and conform their real estate policies with international standards to attract Foreign Direct Investment. In fact, this type of urban planning model doesn’t seek to promote local development nor improve inhabitants’ quality of life, but rather improve the international attractiveness and the competitiveness of the city. Responding to a global growth strategy which contradicts the principle of a green, local and sustainable development, the Vietnamese green city model appears to be more of a ‘greenwashing strategy’ rather than a real commitment by city authorities in favor of the environment.
Edited by Jérémie Descamps