Hanoi’s Red River Project

by Melissa García Lamarca

Before the development of roads, the Red River was fundamentally important in facilitating trade between Hanoi and other parts of Vietnam. While Hanoi is nestled into a bend of the river, the city’s growth has cut it off from this waterway, largely due to a heavily traversed arterial road (pictured below) that disconnects the city from the central part of its riverside.

Yen Phu Road separates Hanoi from the Red River.

Getting over to explore this part of the riverside, an area known as Phuc Xa – Phuc Tan, is a bit difficult but worth it. At the base of Long Bien Bridge is Long Bien Market, a large, agricultural wholesale market open from midnight to 2 a.m. There is a mix of formal and informal settlements as one continues east on the bridge. On the river, these settlements transform into a few dozen floating houses made largely from found materials. Residents fish and farm on the island in the Red River.

Long Bien Market.

Informal housing next to Long Bien Market.

Floating houses on the Red River.

Woman working her family’s fields on the island in the Red River.

Floating houses on the west side of the island.

As Hanoi is undergoing rapid growth, it is uncertain how much longer this area will retain its form and character. In 2005 Hanoi signed an agreement with the city of Seoul for Koreans to help the Vietnamese capital develop the area along the Red River. With a projected cost of $7 billion, plans involve construction and upgrading of more than 75 km along banks on both sides of the river, including 42 km of new development, and building 80 km of roads along the river.

This massive redevelopment project will require relocating 39,100 households (170,000 people), begging the question of what will happen to people living in informal housing next to the river or in floating houses on the river. Equally uncertain is the fate of people who farm on the island — the plan slates agricultural land there for “leisure and tourism.” While the plan has been controversial, it is currently stalled due to the financial crisis. Time will tell what comes of it.

Credits: Photos by Melissa García Lamarca. Images of Red River redevelopment plans from Tran Hoai Anh.

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  1. Interesting issue Mel. Do you know if there is any kind of community organizing or collective governance or sustainable urban development working groups active around the future of Hanoi?

  2. Thanks for the message Cam. Bottom up type processes are pretty lacking in Hanoi and in Vietnam in general, largely due to the one-party communist state that functions through a hierarchical, top down process.

    What we call 'civil society' is slowly emerging however, as capitalism has taken a strong hold and is powering the country's development. From what I learned through there are not any working groups like those that you describe that are active around the future of Hanoi.

    A few years ago the government contracted an American-South Korean consortium to develop a new Master Plan for Hanoi, whose purported vision is to create the "most sustainable city". This plan was developed through a very top down process - I'll write one of my next posts on it, and will certainly read more to see if there were any working groups involved.