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Hà Nội, a Metropolis in the Making

Sylvie Fanchette


S. Fanchette

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1This introduction aims to situate Hà Nội within its Southeast Asian context and to understand what makes it stand apart from other major cities in the region. Hà Nội is unusual in that it is the capital of one of the most deeply Chinese-influenced countries in Southeast Asia, by dint of its administrative, urban and hydraulic organisation, after a millennium of Chinese colonisation, and having entered the global capitalist market much later than other countries. We will therefore present several elements of comparison with the Chinese urbanisation process, particularly that which occurs in situ.

Southeast Asia: a region marked by a process of extensive metropolisation

2Over several decades, Southeast Asia’s big cities have begun a process of metropolisation, at varying speeds depending on the duration and degree of their integration into the global market, their population size and the scale of demographic, economic and social change that the outskirts of these cities have undergone. Metropolisation is a process linked to globalisation, which relies on the development of transportation and communications to create conurbations (larger and more densely-populated territorial units than traditional towns) and within which the cadences of population mobility are intense and increasingly complex. ‘Metropolised areas stretch over many tens of kilometres from town centres and bring more and more outlying small towns and villages within the ambit of the daily workings of these great conurbations, thus creating new kinds of not only urban morphologies but also rural ones’ (Asher, 2003).

  • 1 Source: UN, 2011.

3In these very populous regions of Southeast Asia, where the borders between rural and urban are poorly defined, comprehending this process requires a deconstruction of the classic approach to urban analysis offered by statistics. The picture given by official statistics on the scale of the urbanisation process in Southeast Asia is in fact a misleading one. This region appears sparsely urbanised when compared with others in the world – 42% of the population live in towns as of 2010, compared with a worldwide average of 50%, while there is an urban population of approximately 80% in North or South America and more than 70% in Europe–and this regional percentage is only just higher than Africa’s 39% of city-dwellers1. Within Southeast Asia, Vietnam shares relatively low rates of urbanisation with Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, when compared with those of Malaysia (68%), the Philippines (63%) and Indonesia (48%). As of 2009, Vietnam’s figures are close to those of moderately urbanised Thailand (36%) and Myanmar (31%). These very variable rates do not necessarily correspond to higher levels of economic development in more urbanised countries: this is demonstrated by a comparison between Thailand, where GDP per capita is 5,473 USD/inhabitant as of 2009, and that of the Philippines, officially almost twice as urbanised, is 2,587 USD/inhabitant (Jones, 2002). Attribution of urban status varies from one country to another, and it is difficult to compare levels of urbanisation between countries, even in the same region.

  • 2 38 and 49 inhabitants/km2 respectively for North and South America, and Europe 163 inhabitants/km2(...)

4In addition, Southeast Asian population densities are higher than those of very urbanised European or American countries2, namely 111 inhabitants/km2 in the Indochinese Peninsula (Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam), and 153 inhabitants/km2 in the island countries of the region (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore). Above all, these densities of population are unequaly distributed among them, they are very high in important areas of the three largest countries: Java-Bali in Indonesia, the Red River delta in Vietnam and the Visayan region of the Philippines exceeds 650 per sq. km.

5This suggests that urbanisation, as defined by official statistics, is not the only process that explains the clustering of population, or that Asian towns are not the only places for settlement capitalisation, unlike their European counterparts. If we call urbanisation the process of obtaining maximum advantage from demographic density, diversity of activities and people, we can state that Southeast Asian countries have very much embarked upon the process: high demographic densities are associated with multi-activity practices in conjunction with intensive rice farming in several regions (more than half of the population in certain parts of Java, Malaysia or Vietnam) and the scale of daily commuting is intense (Jones, 2002).

6Within metropolitan areas of Southeast Asia, a triple process of urbanisation can be observed: the expansion of urban sprawl, which stretches beyond the boundaries of a city’s inner rings of suburbs, the acceleration of in situ urbanisation, linked to high densities of a multi-activity population, and administrative urbanisation through promotion of rural localities into towns and urban districts. Some researchers (Jones, 2002 and 2004; McGee, 2012) have studied urbanisation trends in Southeast Asia by widening the space defined as urban by official statistics, and particularly the metropolitan area, a space that they label respectively as Extended Metropolitan Region and Mega-Urban Region. They identify several rings of zones (inner and outer) within these urban regions and study their demographic and economic processes, going beyond official definitions. These very dynamic regions vary from one metropolis to another, but they have a certain number of characteristics in common:

  • they are in constant evolution and are composed of several rings of zones that T. McGee has divided into: peri-urban, desakota (town-village), desakota in formation, outlying rural area, these various areas being interspersed with new urban areas, satellite towns, industrial parks, new urbans areas for low-income populations (McGee, 2012);
  • they are densely populated and based on a foundation of very intensive rice farming;
  • they are difficult to comprehend in the Asian context owing to widely differing definitions as to what is urban: in some countries dense peri-urban areas are considered as urban (Philippines) while in others, they are not (Thailand, Vietnam);
  • population mobility in the form of commuting and circular migrations is intense;
  • they undergo acute fragmentation and an aggravation of socio-spatial inequalities produced by a capitalist logic founded on territorial inequalities, expulsions from agricultural land and access to a depreciated land market;
  • main connecting roads leading to the fringes of these mega-urban regions receive preferential development and are lined with new urban areas of luxury accommodation, industrial parks and private housing estates, which sometimes become development corridors, while areas poorly connected to urban networks develop in situ, enduring the negative impact of territorial fragmen
  • a high proportion of urban growth occurs on the outskirts of towns, at once associated with migrations and with reclassification of rural localities into urban ones;
  • these areas receive a high proportion of activities devolved from town centres: polluting industries, undesirable populations and space-hungry infrastructure (universities, etc.).

7The driving forces accelerating urbanisation in Southeast Asia are principally associated with globalisation and with very heavy international and domestic investment in real estate, communications and industry. However, a change in the use of peri-urban areas, corresponding to the inner ring of suburbs of these mega-urban regions, began to happen as early as the 1960s, before the major Western and Asian projects, particularly industrial ones, were established. In the area around Bangkok, paddy fields were transformed into horticultural and market gardens to supply the capital’s consumer market with fresh produce. Many villages were polarised by towns, following the improvement in their linkage to the road network, commuting of population and shuttle services have increased, and farmers’ better-educated children are progressively joining the urban employment market. This integration into the market economy, along with the end of food self-sufficiency among rural households, has transformed these stretches of peri-urban countryside (Askew, 2002).

8With the economic crisis of the 1970s, linked to the increase in petrol prices, most industrial capitalist countries started to show an interest in the cheap labour markets of populous Southeast Asian countries to relocate their businesses. Indonesia was one of the first destinations in the region, supported in this by very favourable policies towards foreign investment from the government of the day (Peresthu, 2002). From 1980 onwards, the increase of foreign investment into import substitution industries led to an industrialisation of the hinterland immediately surrounding these towns and that in turn attracted numerous waves of workers. Industry has become the main activity in the megalopolises that Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur have become (Rimmer & Dick, 2009). Meanwhile, the scale of investments in the real estate market, linked to banking policies favourable towards loans helping the middle classes acquire property, led to a construction boom and a very rapid expansion of urban sprawl. ‘It is not so much demographic processes or migratory flows that carry waves of pioneers towards the outskirts, beyond the physical or administrative boundaries of cities, so much as public and private urban development projects, seeming to confirm recognition of the paradoxical role that has fallen to urbanisation as the driving force of economic growth’ (Goldblum, 2010).

9These areas formerly considered as outlying, but becoming urbanised in situ, are now an integral part of mega-urban regions. Villages integrated into the inner rings of their suburbs house migrants and become dormitory villages, while villagers develop fresh strategies to access resources, especially land, principal means of accumulating capital. In the 2000s, the outskirts of these metropolises underwent rapid demographic and economic changes and acute social upheaval, within a radius of more than 30, sometimes as much as 50 km (in the cases of Bangkok and Jakarta) from the town centres. Although some parts of these urban regions remain extremely rural in terms of landscape, they constitute valuable reserves of land for major metropolitan projects (Jones, 2004).

A process of metropolisation specific to Southeast Asia in an environment deeply affected by water

10In Southeast Asia, most metropolises are located in coastal regions, or along rivers, not far from their mouths, and were originally built for their primary function as ports on sites favoured by the maritime routes of the time, like Jakarta and Manila. In most cases, the colonising powers set up their governing bodies in such places, as did the major Western commercial companies, their customs and warehouse districts, first foundations for a rapid metropolisation of these cities. ‘This construction flowing from the sea sets Southeast Asia apart from neighbouring continent-sized countries China and India’but this location renders them strongly dependent on the dynamics of globalisation (Goldblum et al., 2012). Even Hà Nội and Kuala Lumpur, located at a fair distance from the coast, are linked to ports that make up part of their wider metropolitan regions. The scale of these mega-urban regions and the recent nature of their very rapid growth – Jakarta has seen its population double between 1971 and 1995 (Forbes, 2004) – can mostly be explained by their commercial function, and more recently by their industrial one: located not far from the sea, port cities have profited from the boom in international trade.

11Each city had its Chinese business quarter and other very cosmopolitan districts where could be found a mixture of Indians, Malays, Chinese, Persians, Arabs and other ethnic traders operating in the region. According to the Thai dynasties, the Chinese were encouraged to settle in the city. Located away from the political centre, usually an imperial or royal citadel, the commercial district was connected to a myriad of villages, particularly craft villages, where markets were held, some of them floating. ‘Thai cities have always been turned resolutely towards the outside world with a cosmopolitan aspect contrasting strongly with the very agricultural nature of their hinterland’ (Askew, 2002). Most metropolises contain a business district of this kind, such as the Old Quarter of 36 Streets in Hà Nội.

12T. McGee (2012) compares the process of metropolisation in Southeast Asian cities and suggests that Hà Nội shares with Bangkok, Manila and Jakarta the particularity of spreading out over densely-populated irrigated areas permeated with intensive rice growing, that he calls desakota, while Kuala Lumpur spreads out over much more sparsely-populated outskirts, where agriculture is mixed and less intensive. In addition, these cities share their aquatic features, being deltaic for the most part. They have spread out over water and between stretches of water, along canals, on river levees, with much recourse to dykes and polders. Indeed, Bangkok was known as the Venice of Asia until most of the klong (canals) were filled in to build roads, thus sounding the death knell for free exchange of water with the river. Their privileged situations, built along rivers, at the interface between their valleys, of which they consume part of the produce, and the sea, opening out onto foreign markets, confer upon these cities the role of international commercial capitals, as well as being hubs for trade with their hinterlands, to which they are connected by a dense network of canals and rivers.

13The outskirts of these deltaic cities (Bangkok, Hà Nội, Jakarta) are crisscrossed with waterways, the levees of which are crowded with dense and multiactivity villages. Although these river communication routes within an organised hydraulic network have galvanised the trade and prosperity of these cities, the presence of water in this monsoon region does however make them very vulnerable to flooding. This implies that public services provide support for urban development with dykes and hydraulic systems, but also laws formulated to protect areas covered with water. Many lakes, canals and bodies of water of all kinds, not to mention paddy fields, which represent storm water retentions in monsoon season, are progressively filled in as construction becomes denser and spreads out over the fringes of a city. The change in land use, converting flooded or irrigated paddy fields into permanent, impermeable structures, limits natural rainwater drainage and requires a revision of the hydraulic system to improve drainage.

14This poses the question of whether this very costly work is financed by the private sector, which is more interested in a rapid return on its investment. In the context of liberalisation of land laws, of pressure on urban plots of land at speculative prices, in town centres as well as along major road routes, and of climate change, catastrophic flooding in these excessively low-lying cities (Jakarta, Bangkok, Hà Nội) puts their ever-rising populations and their infrastructure in danger.

15McGee (2012) considers it important to take environmental diversity into account, as well as spatial differentiation between the urban core and the periurban and megapolitan areas, because one must expect that demographic growth will be concentrated in these fringes over the coming decades. Similarly, he suggests that the restructuring of urban centres and their growing reorganisation linked to globalisation will create fiscal imbalances between the core cities and the margins.

16These important changes in the process of urbanisation of places and people in the context of metropolisation lead to a reflection on the governance of vast areas labelled greater metropolitan regions, but whose boundaries remain unclear. It is the case that these regions are managed by various levels of administrative units with fragmented responsibilities on their fringes and with little power. ‘Proceeding by fits and starts at the whim of planning and schedules for finance of public and private works, this fragmentation indeed appears to be an integral part of the way projects that initiate transformations of outlying districts are conceived’ (Goldblum, 2014). Some authors bear witness to the impossibility or inability of the government or the metropolitan administration controlling the process of project urbanisation. A. Peresthu (2002) admits frankly that the government no longer controls development of the Jakarta’s metropolitan area, because it is outstripped by capitalist logic, while Wilson (2009) questions the validity of the Master Plan for Hà Nội, because no public agency is capable of putting it into force.

17These evolutions create a complex managerial environment and the numerous decisions taken at local level conflict with those taken centrally, particularly those concerning land. In Southeast Asia, many different governance models are implemented: municipalities have been set up at provincial level, as in Vietnam for Hà Nội or in the case of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, which has become a federal territory. However, Hà Nội Province does not cover the whole metropolitan region and there is no co-operating system or supra-provincial entity, a Hà Nội Region, for example, that could manage the entire mega-urban region. In Manila, the metropolitan authority takes action in precedence over smaller local bodies without these losing their political power. For large urban regions that encompass many political jurisdictions, various models exist based on collaboration agreements (McGee, 2012).

Hà Nội, a city unusual in Southeast Asia

18Hà Nội was set apart from its Southeast Asian counterparts, until the 1980s, by the great geopolitical and economic divide between countries with free market economies (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand), and socialist countries, with very different urban evolutions (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia). The first group underwent urban, industrial, commercial and tourism development, whereas the second saw a stagnation, even an urban decline, the limiting of trade and population mobility, and anti-business urban policies (Goldblum, 2010).

19The integration of the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and above all Malaysia into the global market was established long ago, aided by their openness to maritime trade, and their adherence to the capitalist system, unlike communist Vietnam, locked into the Soviet market for three decades until halfway through the 1980s. In the aftermath of World War II, this first group of cities developed rapidly, while the Vietnamese capital entered into a long period of commercial decline. In addition, Hà Nội, unlike the great metropolises of the region marked by Indian cultures, is deeply influenced by China, at once in its urban design, its water management and its administration. The situation has changed radically since the second half of the 1980s under the cumulative and convergent influences of the liberalisation of Southeast Asian socialist countries (who have become members of ASEAN) and a rise to power of Southeast Asia in international trade, emphasising the role of big cities in the processes of economic growth (Goldblum, 2010).

20In comparison with other Southeast Asian metropolises, Hà Nội has a modestly sized population. It has grown very slowly, particularly during the anti-urban period of the collectivist era (1954-1986), while its outskirts became rapidly denser by developing numerous parallel activities to intensive wet rice farming. Similarly to the large deltaic Chinese cities, particularly Canton and Shanghai, it has not experienced a demographic boom linked to mass migratory movements that very rapid economic development in the 1970s, stimulated by foreign investment in industry and real estate, generated in the other Southeast Asian metropolises. Migratory movements were strictly controlled by means of domestic passports or identity cards, called hai khau, equivalent of the Chinese hukou. This in part explains the very high population densities on the outskirts of Chinese-influenced cities, given the growing populations prevented from moving elsewhere and the stabilisation of the rural exodus.

21In 2008, before it absorbed the province of Hà Tây, the Vietnamese capital had a population of barely 3 million inhabitants, namely two to three times smaller than that of Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila. In addition, since its foundation, Hà Nộihas developed very close commercialand artisanal ties with the surrounding villages, through the Old Quarter of 36 Streets and Corporations, which was at the root of a village urbanisation process well ahead of its time. Indeed, having adopted the Chinese model, inherited during over 1,000 years of colonisation, the authorities integrated about a hundred villages into the city limits, making up a green, craft belt that supplied the capital (Papin, 1997). Although in administrative terms the city includes this belt of villages, the continuous urbanised space, as calculated by statistics to define urban districts, is limited. This explains the relatively small size of the Vietnamese capital, while the villages on its outer fringes have become much denser.

22In contrast, cities in Southeast Asia that were created to do business from the start have opened up more to international trade than to their hinterlands, with which they have not developed close ties. They have been able to spread over surrounding areas, expropriating village land for use in urban projects, in an unregulated political context favourable to foreign investment and not very concerned about the strong-arm methods used by investors to acquire land (Dorléans, 1993): ‘In many respects the complete opposite of agrarian towns, these trading cities… maintain few direct links with their respective hinterlands, busy as they are with long-distance trade’ (de Koninck, 2012).

23With the economic liberalisation of the 1980s, Hà Nội encountered several obstacles to its expansion: difficulty in securing land for building in the absence of a real land market, village densities among the highest in the world, which eat into potential building space on the fringes of the city, the government’s food self-sufficiency policy that limits expropriations of land producing three annual rice harvests and the water management constraints linked to the specificity of this delta, very vulnerable to the risks of river and rain flooding.

24Finally, a distinguishing feature of Vietnam is its metropolitan bipolarisation. Hà Nội is in competition with its southern counterpart, Hồ Chí Minh City, the former colonial Sai Gon, economic capital of Vietnam, far more economically dynamic, and more populous (the population topped 8 million inhabitants in 2014, of which 6 million in its urban districts). As in most Southeast Asian countries, ‘one can identify one or several cities, usually the capital and the main port city, whose origins or at least their fortunes are linked to their function as trading posts during the colonial period. Their dominant influence contributes to the marginalisation or the overshadowing of older, interior cities, closer to pre-colonial cultural roots. One can consider the peculiar nature of the contrasts that exist between the two ‘capitals’ of Vietnam’ (de Koninck, 2012). An open door onto the global economy, Hồ Chí Minh City attracts more foreign capital (on average 20% compared with 15% for Hà Nội between 1989-2010, according to GSO), and its neighbouring provinces play host to numerous industrial parks and free-trade zones, particularly the triangle of strongly attractive growth that it forms with the port of Vung Tau to the south, and the industrial area of Bien Hoa to the north.

Hà Nội: a city made up of villages that it has slowly integrated into the urban fabric

25The thousand-year-old city of Hà Nội, built on ‘the bend in the Red River’ at the apex of the eponymous Delta (figure 1), is among Southeast Asia’s most ancient metropolises. It took shape in part from a dense substratum of villages that it slowly absorbed into its fabric. The capital of feudal Vietnam was originally made up of a citadel, place of imperial power, and of the commercial district, the Old Quarter of 36 Streets and Corporations, linked to a myriad of more distant peri-urban villages that supplied it in craft and agricultural products. It has extended its limits, integrating very populous and multi-activity villages and lake basins around its fringes.

26It has grown up along the Red River, where it flows out into the Duong River that joins the Thai Binh River further to the east of the Delta, ‘between’ the waters and ‘on’ the waters at very variable rhythms in this environment extremely vulnerable to flooding and under threat of spates from a dangerous river flowing above the level of the plain. The inhabitants are grouped together in dense and elevated villages to afford protection from the waters and for many centuries have practised craftand trade activities in parallel with growing wet rice. These villages have thus become socially urbanised with division of labour, social differentiations and a higher standard of living among more economically active households.

27Hà Nội’s spread over its very populous fringes through integration of villages has taken place according to various different patterns throughout its history, depending on the nature of the state development policy in force, the town planning model upon which it was based, the economic activities of the villages in question and the particularities of the local authorities running these villages.

28Although during the imperial era, the urban model promoted was one of integration of villages into the administrative limits of the city, at the time of the colonial era (1873-1945), then during the collectivist period (1954-1986), a clear separation took place between that which was defined as urban and as rural–inherited from the Chinese administrative model – with development plans concentrated on the city centre. During this latter period, rural development was favoured and village populations strictly confined to their countryside. Cities retained a strictly administrative role and their place in the landscape remained limited: high population densities were a feature of village life. Hà Nội, the small capital of a country of more than 80 million inhabitants, remained restricted to an area limited to 4 urban districts until 1995.

29After having recovered its legitimacy, partly lost during the post-reunification years (1975-1980), the Vietnamese state sought to regain control of land management about 10 years after the first reforms of Đổi mới (economic liberalisation), in 1986. It chose to accelerate the urban transition and to integrate the country into the global economy. It initiated a number of institutional and land reforms to decentralise some of its prerogatives to the provinces concerning regional development and to accelerate the process of ‘liberating’ agricultural land to make it accessible to property developers. This facilitated the creation of large, private real estate groups made up of what was leftof former state-owned construction companies. With the help of foreign capital, within the framework of joint ventures, these developers, very well connected with state networks, undertook the construction of new urban areas or khu đô thị mới. The land market overheated and anarchic construction took place, in keeping with urban models imported from elsewhere in Asia. However, the involvement of private developers working with short-term profit margins changed the social policy of this communist state regarding construction of housing for low-income families.

30In addition, in August 2008, the province-capital absorbed the whole of Hà Tây Province (to the west) and a few other communes from neighbouring provinces. In this manner, it tripled its area and doubled its population. At the head of a country of 88 million inhabitants, Vietnam’s capital seeks a standing equal to that of the great Asian metropolises, in particular Hồ Chí Minh City, the economic metropolis in the south of Vietnam. Its administrative expansion aims in theory to make it more competitive on the international stage and to offer investors far-reaching control over land for the construction of new urban areas. This urban expansion takes place on densely populated rural fringes, with diversified productive activities that could be compared to Asian desakota. More than 500 villages, classified as ‘craft villages’, are specialised in handicrafts and industry, activities that use a lot of workforce and that are practised in a very high residential density environment.

31The change in speed brought about by the state and by property developers in the construction and planning of the province-capital poses the problem of village integration and that of their urbanisation in situ, their inherent economic dynamics, the importance of preserving a green belt around Hà Nội to supply the city with fresh produce, and protection from flooding... The city-countryside fusion, which has always constituted the Red River Delta’s specificity and which in part explains why the capital as such has been limited in its expansion, appears to have been challenged. Until recent times, Hà Nội has been a socially viable city, capable of retaining and integrating low-income village populations.

32In addition, the Vietnamese government’s decision to integrate westerly neighbouring Hà Tây Province into the province-capital of Hà Nội has far-reaching consequences in terms of water management, as half of this region is vulnerable to overflow from the Đáy and Tich Rivers, in the event of diversion of high waters from the Red River, and to subsidence of its poorly stabilised alluvial land. In an urban context, where the market forces dictate the return on land for development and impose high-rise buildings, regulating land use and urban sprawl is a difficult challenge to meet.



Source: Fanchette S., based on online map server of Urban Planning Departement, Ministry of Construction of Vietnam

33Working from a rich body of maps of various scales, this publication seeks to describe and analyse how ‘bottom-up’ urbanisation (urbanisation in situ) meets ‘top-down’ urbanisation (metropolisation) and the stages of village integration into the thousand-year-old city of Hà Nội.

34This takes place in several different ways. Integration can be spatial (linking up with the urban sprawl through uninterrupted construction all along the main roads), administrative (integration of rural communes into urban districts, with compliance to the norms of urban management), economic (participation in non-agricultural activities for the urban consumer market) or social (installation of economic migrants or students into villages that become dormitory towns, creating a diversified settlement that leads to changes in the way of life).

35The encounter between these two processes, ‘top-down’ urbanisation and ‘bottom-up’ urbanisation, can in some conditions be positive, the latter being galvanised by the former. On the other hand, in some cases, too rapid metropolisation can limit the process of ‘bottom-up’ urbanisation and hold back the economic development of these villages, particularly owing to the competition for land at too high and inaccessible prices for villagers, even the richest ones. Some craftvillage business people find themselves obliged to set up their activities in remote industrial parks, where land is cheaper, threatening to damage the dynamic of productive clusters.

36In the dense peri-urban region, once all agricultural land has disappeared, craft-industrial, commercial and service-related activities that have developed in situ will constitute a dynamic economic urban fabric. Unlike the suburbs of Western cities, which were built on a sparsely populated village substrate and required heavy investment in amenities, housing and production infrastructure to receive the many migrants, peri-urban Hà Nội enjoys several advantages. Limited investment, bringing buildings and means of production up to standards, but with access to productive and residential land at lower than market prices could integrate them into the city, providing them with the means to maintain their activities and to house migrant workers.

37Several specialists have demonstrated the fragility of the suburbs, now residential areas, once they have lost the industrial and craft activities that maintained their dynamism. The urban model mapped out for the Hanoian metropolis, with zoning of residential, craft-industrial and recreational spaces, connected by a major road system, all this within the context of liberalisation of land laws, flies in the face of land multi-usage and threatens to undermine the very ‘people-intensive’ production system, capable of supporting very high population densities, developed in the Red River Delta.

38By studying villages in the different rings of suburbs around the city, it is possible to measure through time and space the details of this integration and the endogenous capability of village communities to urbanise spontaneously. There are numerous differences in village integration patterns between the first ring of suburbs in the perimeter defined as urban, when compared to the second ring currently being urbanised, but this sheds useful light on future problems with which the new urban districts will have to deal.

39This work is made up of three parts.

40The first part entitled ‘A city woven from water and villages’ presents the village features of the capital and the urban ones of the villages, at the root of the fusion between the two components of the feudal city: the administrative and commercial city and its productive villages. We begin with its lakeside features, water having shaped from the very beginning the foundation of this deltaic city, since it makes up a quarter of its territory. Its lakeside features and above all its vulnerability to flooding must be taken into account for the future of this metropolis in a context of state disengagement from development of this hydraulic territory. Next, a presentation of the Old Quarter of the 36 Streets and its relations with the outlying peri-urban villages provides evidence of the originally rural nature of the capital, its capacity to integrate villagers, and particularly artisans, and of the still vivid presence of an architectural and cultural heritage, symbol of village heritage in some districts. Several chapter subsections describe the various processes of integration of villages into the city, depending on the urban policies implemented by the state: taking villages into account or ignoring them.

41The second part, ‘ The 2000s: Raising Hà Nội to the rank of metropolis’ looks at the steps towards the constitution of various land and territorial reforms since the economic liberalisation or Đổi mới of the 1980s and major projects within the framework of the master plan, signed in 2011, to build the new Hà Nội for 2030. The acceleration of the metropolisation process, ‘top-down’ urbanisation, and reforms to liberalise property laws came into conflict with the dynamism of urban outskirts lacking any control over land issues, given that agricultural land belonged to the state. The densification of built-up land in the most dynamic villages and strategies to expand village production space are limited, large-scale urban developers being considered as being the only ones capable of building the metropolis of tomorrow. So the question arises of how to retrain villagers having lost their agricultural land and the search for extra sources of income for multiactivity artisans.

42The third part, entitled ‘Urban fringes: integration in opposition to village dynamics’, examines the process of population densification, the demographic dynamics linked both to metropolisation and in situ urbanisation, especially multiactivity, and the implications of the encounter between ‘bottom-up’ and ‘topdown’ urbanisation based on several case studies, and this on several different scales. The emergence of new stakeholders, conflicts over land, the questioning of local powers, some of which are implicated in corrupt land deals, and multiform village strategies are symptomatic of a society undergoing profound change, product of a liberal society after several decades of collectivist management. However, the harshness of some conflicts, the very rapid social and economic stratification associated with the property boom, the end of peasantry in the peri-urban outskirts, challenge the foundations of this multi-millennial, deeply village-oriented deltaic society.

43This work is part of a research programme completed in 2012, Les dynamiques territoriales à la périphérie des métropoles du Sud, financed by the ANR ‘Les Suds’ and conducted in partnership between the UMR Prodig (Paris I, CNRS, IRD), Cirad and the Casrad of the Vietnamese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

44Since the expansion of the Vietnamese capital over the neighbouring province of Hà Tây in 2008, from now on, it appears necessary to consider the city from the perspective of its relations with its outskirts, integrated into the scope for action of the new municipality. Although Hà Nội has been the subject of much research since the 1990s, undertaken by urban planners, architects, geographers and historians, which has given rise to the appearance of several publications (Charbonneau & Đỗ Hậu, 2002; Papin, 2001; Clément & Lancret (eds), 2001; Logan, 2000; Decoster & Klouche, 1997; Parenteau (ed.), 1997), only the very interesting peri-urban computer graphics atlas from the Franco-Vietnamese team led by Vu and Rossi (VTGEO & UMR Regard, 2002) had undertaken the study of the peri-urbanisation of Hà Nội, most studies focussing on the city centre. Studies concerning migrations towards the two metropolises of Hà Nội and Hồ Chí Minh City, or within them, have given rise to several publications (Gubry et al. (eds.), 2008 and Gubry et al. (eds.), 2002), but, in the case of the second, it only concerns the former delimitation of Hà Nội. Many doctoral theses in French over the last decade or so on the subject of Hà Nội, some of them by contributors to this publication, but none has so far been published (Bùi Tú Uyên, 2012; Chabert, 2004; Cerise, 2009; Labbé, 2011a; Musil, 2013; Pandolfi, 2001; Papin, 1997; Phạm Thái Sõn, 2010; Pulliat, 2013; Quertamp, 2003; Segard, 2014; Trần Nhật Kiên, 2010).

Photo 1
A city spreading out along major roads and absorbing peri-urban gardens

45This book seeks to unite and promote the work of several French, Vietnamese and Canadian researchers, on the process of Hà Nội’s urbanisation and peri-urban dynamics. The multidisciplinary dimension (architecture, urban planning, sociology, geography and economics) that we have given to this work can be explained by the interest in combining very spatial approaches at various scales by architects, urban planners and geographers and those of sociologists, anthropologists and human geographers, more sensitive to questions of social dynamics and of the impact of major projects on the lives of villages integrated into the city’s fabric. We have made a diagnosis of the periurban area in order to present its strengths and its capacity to participate in a new enlarged city without losing sight of its diversity. We wish to demonstrate the interest in taking into account the village stratum as a stakeholder in the enlarged capital’s master plan for 2030 and of incorporating into it the land use plans of rural communes.

46Within the framework of the ANR programme ‘Perisud’ that I guided for the city of Hà Nội in partnership with Ðào Thế Anh, the director of the Center for Agrarian Systems Research and Development (Casrad) of Vietnam, we drew up several maps showing the communal network of the new capital province. These recent maps (with statistics from 2009) are a basis for particularly innovative reflection to analyse the social and land context in which the new city seeks to expand and enable us to show the social risks to which these projects can expose these peri-urban spaces that are among the most densely populated in the world (1,000 to 2,000 inhabitants per km2), particularly because the existence of this multi-purpose environment is denied by the planners.

47The many contributors are part of a wide network of researchers, doctoral students and post-docs with whom we have worked for many years in Vietnam. This will enable them to publish under their own names the various chapter sections that they have written or co-written. Many of these contributors possess a large corpus of hitherto unpublished maps and plans that our atlas intends to present and analyse. Some contributors work in the field with Vietnamese stakeholders (such as the l’Institut des métiers de la ville, the Institute for Urban Policy, jointly run by Emmanuel Cerise) and have an ‘insiders’ view’ of the capital’s planning process that has enabled us to enrich our project’s reflection. The land issues of Hà Nội’s expansion over its outskirts are a central, hot topic with high social, economic and hydraulic risks. The municipal authorities and the relevant ministries are appealing to international experts to participate in the reflection on this major project to elevate Hà Nội to the status of international metropolis. Through this work, we therefore wish to contribute to this reflection.


1 Source: UN, 2011.

2 38 and 49 inhabitants/km2 respectively for North and South America, and Europe 163 inhabitants/km2 in 2011, where urbanisation has long been established.

Table des illustrations

Légende Source: Fanchette S., based on online map server of Urban Planning Departement, Ministry of Construction of Vietnam
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Légende Photo 1A city spreading out along major roads and absorbing peri-urban gardens
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PhD in Geography from Paris 8 University and is authorised to supervise research. She has been conducting research at IRD since 1993 and is a member of UMR Ceped.
Her main research interests are the urbanisation process in densely populated rural areas and the conditions of population densification in the Nile and Red River Deltas. In Vietnam, she studies rural industrialisation and the peri-urbanisation process in the context of the Vietnamese capital’s metropolisation..

© IRD Éditions, 2016

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