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Hà Nội, a Metropolis in the Making

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Sylvie Fanchette

Part Two. The 2000s: Raising Hà Nội to the rank of metropolis

The 2000s: Raising Hà Nội to the rank of metropolis

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1By the early 1970s, the collectivist system had demonstrated its weaknesses, particularly owing to dwindling agricultural and industrial production, this in the unfavourable international context (the US embargo), limiting importations of consumer goods solely to those from Eastern bloc countries. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the halting of aid from the Soviet Union, Viêt Nam found itself forced to embark upon economic reforms to rekindle growth in production, handing over a portion of the initiative to the private sector and allowing farmers to once again keep what they could grow. By the end of the 1980s, the Vietnamese Communist Party launched a series of socio-economic reforms known as Đổi mới. Reintroducing market mechanisms into the domestic economy and relaxing state control over activities of individuals, these reforms transformed nearly all aspects of Vietnamese society, and especially access to housing.

2Following the failure of collective housing public policy and non-market management of urban land, fresh territorial, administrative and land reforms were drawn up. The 1993 land law guaranteed the use of land and transactions of its rights, galvanising self-building in towns and villages on the fringes of the city and, by the same token, urban sprawl. In addition, the reforms known as ‘the state and the people building together’ favour self-building by inhabitants and the creation of housing estates by the public and parapublic sectors. A land market was thus established with public land and illegal transactions of agricultural land. These transactions proliferated because of the housing crisis and the deficient bureaucratic procedures of local authorities that could not, socially speaking, prevent the ‘people’ from finding somewhere to live (Pandolfi, 2001).

3Ten years later, large-scale projects of territorial, land and economic reforms undertaken by the state and the province of Hà Nội aim to give Vietnam a capital equal to its ambitions. On one hand, the city grew bigger in 2008, absorbing its neighbour province to triple in size and double its population, on the other, a master plan was ratified in 2011 for the construction of the capital, to the perspective of 2030, aimed at accelerating the process of metropolisation. Land reform now makes it possible to accelerate the freeing up of agricultural land marked down for the construction of major projects and giving the provinces greater freedom to manage the land market. These provinces adopted development plans of which they negotiated the implementation with private developers, who are seeking a rapid return on their investment. Finally, reforms were undertaken to improve and facilitate foreign investment in Vietnam; foreign direct investment (FDI) is the chief financial motor driving the construction of real estate property.

4However, this ‘top-down’ urbanisation exacerbates socio-spatial inequalities between the service-oriented and globalised city centre and outskirts where the social fragmentation is accelerating: multi-activity villages continue to exist next to residential areas of high and moderate standard where the middle classes born with Đổi mới will go to live. In addition, this urbanisation clashes with the economic dynamism and demands of villagers on the urban fringes, who hold no sway over land. The densification of buildings in the most dynamic villages reaches very high levels, without the possibility of gaining access to productive non-agricultural land, and the strategies for expanding the space of village production are limited. Big urban developers are considered to be the only ones capable of building tomorrow’s metropolis and self-building is banned henceforth. Then comes the problem of finding new careers for villagers who have lost their agricultural land and the search for supplementary income for multi-activity artisans.

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