A little while ago I was asked to deliver a little lecture under the title ‘Place making’. Making references to a 2ha urban master plan design done for Hanoi, Vietnam, it was to outline the care and sensitivity desired when approaching such big scale task. Predictably, the speech went from historic to social fabric to local characteristics and ended in, equally predicable, sustainability and green. Basically, a new quality of habitat based on history and social background and, above all, sustainable.
These new cities can be seen in China. Shenzhen without doubt is green. But the city has no human scale and sense of place. It is sliced in parcels catering for developers and investors but not individuals, eliminating all diversity and human detail.
In any case, development is for the greater good and betterment (a Hong Kong word) for all. Relocating residents of existing villages into high-rise towers and exchanging market places with indoor shopping mall is a justifiable price to pay.
In the case of Hanoi, however, the ‘place is made’. The old city of Hanoi is truly occupied and urbanized by its people and presents itself as an open showcase of human activity and life. Part of the beauty is the absence of corporate brands, providing diversity which is lost in cities developed by investors (no matter how green and infinite wide the vehicular arteries are).
Eventually this will all be lost. And perhaps the beauty of Hanoi is only beautiful for the outsider and the sadness of loosing this is naive. Overpriced and overpacked Starbuck coffee served in an airconditioned environment that could be anywhere maybe is preferable when swiping telephones and is an indication that Hanoi is part of the global world.
Perhaps next have Disney’s expert from the USA design a theme park to illustrate what will then be a cliche of