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The Prime Minister declared November 8 the first Vietnam Urban Day to coincide with the long established World Urbanism Day.

Urban Day aims to encourage people working in urban construction and development, including local authorities, planners, investors, experts and organizations. However, the current poor urban planning throughout the country is challenging the authorities and making trouble for residents.

Urban planning fails to meet development demand

Speaking at a ceremony to mark Vietnam Urban Day in Hanoi last Saturday, Construction Minister Nguyen Hong Quan said that besides the fast development of many new urban areas in the country, there are also shortcomings in urbanization caused by poor planning. Quan said the management capacity and ability of some local authorities do not meet the requirements of urban progress. The lack of infrastructure impedes socio-economic development, and has been singled out as one of the causes of the inundation in Hanoi.

According to statistics, urban development and urbanization in Vietnam are not balanced, with under-developed areas accounting for 82% of the total new urban area.

Thoi bao Kinh te Saigon Online of Saigon Times Group also quotes Nguyen The Ba, head of the Vietnam Urban Development Planning Association, as saying that current urban planning does not reflect the special local features of regions, zones and climate or socio-economic development. Ba adds some zoning master plans develop too slow.

In 10 years, the number of urban areas in Vietnam has increased from 633 to 743. Experts forecast that by 2020, urban residents will account for 40-45% of the country’s population.

Urban areas in Vietnam have seen a population influx. Statistics show that the number of rural workers spending 80% of their time in urban areas is increasing, particularly in large cities like Hanoi and HCMC. These transient residents have the potential to overload existing infrastructure, giving rise to urban slums.

In addition, the natural environment has not received adequate investment for recovery and upgrading, resulting in the loss of balance of natural resources in many places.

Planning infrastructure in most urban areas tends to be slower than socio-economic development. Investment in infrastructure is also slow, and capital investment mainly falls on the State budget and soft loans provided by international donors.

The general framework for urban development is in place in most urban areas, but large cities still face the lack of basic technical infrastructure such as water supply, electricity, drainage and sewage, and telecommunications.

Many challenges for urban development

The shortage of management experience, passive policies and inefficient strategies in the face of rapid urbanization and a booming population all challenge urban development.

At an urban planning conference in Hanoi last Friday, foreign and local experts stressed that population imbalance, economic growth, and overloading of the existing urban infrastructure are the main problems.

While urban planning has a key role to play in economic development, Construction Deputy Minister Nguyen Van Lien admitted that planning remains weak and that each urban area must overcome by setting up a long-term strategy.

The legal framework will need improvement. The Law on Construction and the Law on Housing have been around, but the Law on Urban Planning only put out for discussion at the National Assembly last Saturday.

Some experts said the shortcomings of urban planning have existed for a long time because the private sector has not been more active in building and upgrading civil infrastructure.

Another challenge for urban development is the urban population has increased creating the risk of imbalance between economic development and welfare of the people in large cities.

While the population in urban areas of Vietnam was only 19 million in 2000, 22 million in 2002, it is now expected to reach 30 million by 2010 and to hit 46 million by 2020. The increasing migration from rural to urban areas has forced the authorities to look for flexible, long-term plans.

The Saigon Times Daily

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