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What Ho Chi Minh City Can Learn From Singapore’s Masterfully Planned Urban Development

Ho Chi Minh City can become the next Singapore, if it plans its future as carefully and masterfully as the city state did.

What Ho Chi Minh City Can Learn From Singapore’s Masterfully Planned Urban Development

Singapore is the ideal model of what good land-use planning looks like in modern times. | Source: Shutterstock

Ho Chi Minh City’s Department of Planning and Architecture recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Singapore’s Centre for Liveable Cities to develop a sustainable urban planning in Vietnam’s commercial capital.

With ambitious goals of becoming a smart and innovative city and a financial center not just in Vietnam but in all of Southeast Asia, Ho Chi Minh City seeks the help of a city-state that has successfully turned itself into a gleaming city of the future — a global financial and technology center, comprehensive transportation network and public infrastructure, and incredible amount of green spaces.

Vo Van Hoan, vice-chairman of the city People’s Committee and Singaporean Ambassador Jaya Ratnam underlined the opportunities in Ho Chi Minh, a city that has expanded tremendously in population and economy through the decades since the doi moi. 

Hoan said the city’s development must go along with the improvement of sustainable growth, considering the many challenges that urban expansion brings — pollution included.

Ambassador Ratnam lauded Vietnam and Singapore’s strong ties. He spoke highly of the important achievements in Ho Chi Minh City’s handling of the health crisis, and how it quickly revived its economy amidst worldwide recession.

The diplomat further reiterated Singapore’s role as the largest investor in the city, which signifies its great interest and confidence that Ho Chi Minh City can indeed become the next Singapore, if it plans its future as carefully and masterfully as Singapore did.

By building mostly high-rises to save space, Singapore left enough space for trees and vegetation to flourish throughout the city — and even into rooftops. | Source: Shutterstock

Density vs Liveability

Singapore’s Center for Liveable Cities revealed the correlation between density and liveability: the denser a city, the less liveable it becomes. But while less dense cities enjoy better liveability rankings, it also loses the economies of scale.

With a population of 5.7 million and a land area that spans 719 square kilometers, it has a density of 7,800 people/km2. Its small size and isolation as an island mean that every part of its land matters.

In the early days of independence in the 1960s, Singapore experienced many of the urban challenges growing cities face today: overcrowding, slums, traffic congestion, environmental pollution, floods, and water shortages, according to a report from the World Bank.

But the city-state overcame these challenges through integrated master planning and development, paired with dynamic urban governance. It took Singapore a long time to achieve what it has now. By building mostly high-rises to save space (but also considering functionality), Singapore left enough space for trees and vegetation to flourish throughout the city — and even into rooftops.

“By 1985, we had all the necessary infrastructure in place,” Liu Thai Ker, chairman of the Centre for Liveable Cities’ advisory board, told Daven Wu in a Cathay Pacific blog. He credited  the successful urban planning in Singapore to political leadership and stability.

“We had broken the backbone of the housing shortage with affordable, subsidized public housing. The first phase of the underground trains was underway. We were ahead of the times in worrying about global warming when we introduced building standards that minimized the amount of heat absorbed. We emphasized greenery in public spaces, especially along our roads. It was all planned, even our pavements and the covered walkways around public buildings.”

Singapore is the ideal model of what good land-use planning looks like in modern times. It welcomed modernity and progress with open arms, but also considered the future that climate change and global warming may bring. The result is utopia, only that it’s real.

Ho Chi Minh City is already Vietnam’s economic spearhead, contributing at least 22% of GDP and 27% of government revenues. | Source: Shutterstock

Can HCMC be the next Singapore?

Singapore is at the forefront of innovation, technology and sustainable development. Ho Chi Minh City dreams of the same thing. As it steps forward into the future, it has its eyes set on being a hub for economy, finance, commerce and science in the region. The newly built Thu Duc City (a city within Ho Chi Minh City) is set to start the movement.

Ho Chi Minh City is already Vietnam’s economic spearhead, contributing at least 22% of GDP and 27% of government revenues. With the city getting more attention from the international community — from COVID-19 action to its openness towards foreign investments — it stands out as one of the fastest growing cities in Southeast Asia. Not to mention the city’s digital growth, a major economic driver in the present era.

Last year, the Vietnamese Ministry of Information and Communications confirmed the city has already started laying the groundwork for Ho Chi Minh City’s “smart city” transformation. 

A smart city incorporates data and digital technologies into infrastructure and services — all with an eye to solving specific public problems and making the urban environment more liveable, sustainable and productive, as defined by McKinsey & Company.

The ministry detailed the four main pillars of this goal: shared database and open data ecosystem, a smart city operating center, a center for socioeconomic forecasts and simulation, and a center for information safety.

The government already made remarkable progress in its plans. The shared database has been put into action in District 12, integrating data from the city’s agencies and departments — from education, healthcare to foreign and local investments. This centralized data collection will benefit Ho Chi Minh City residents and businesses, as well as in traffic management, environmental monitoring and urban transportation systems among others.

Renovation of inner districts, building of commercial centers and developing infrastructure have also started. The government stressed that the city’s development should be in line with sustainability. Economic advantage and environmental protection should be considered in all stages of development. 

The city is now preparing for the second phase of the smart city plan, which will run from 2021 to 2025. It has approved five smart city projects under the plan, with a total investment of more than VND2.76 trillion. The city also plans to establish a smart medical center using artificial intelligence to connect doctors and experts at local hospitals with their counterparts at over 100 hospitals in 12 countries.

Ho Chi Minh City is not a smart city yet. But if it continues to complement its big goals with smart and sustainable policies, it will get there.