The Rationale Behind High-rise Height Restrictions
By Thien Di
The current debates on the functional shift of officetels into apartment buildings in downtown HCMC would not have materialized if previous edifice height restrictions had taken into account the population growth and the staggering number of transport means
|In this photo, HCMC's citycape clearly shows a lack of order both on the ground and in the sky|
The current exasperating traffic blockage in HCMC has stemmed from not only the massive increase in the number of vehicles but also lax permissions for building skyscrapers in the inner city, particularly the central business district. From a distance, HCMC’s skyline resembles that of Singapore, Bangkok or Manila. A closer look, nevertheless, reveals a totally different reality. This is indisputably true when it comes to urban planning in comparison with the world’s most admired cites, for example, Paris — the City of Light.
In the elegant Paris, from the first urban planning named after Haussmann in the 19th century to the PLU project in 2001, all buildings have been built based on a single principle: height restriction. Since centuries ago, the highest structures in Paris have been restricted to 25 meters in inner districts and 31 meters in outer ones. Want to build New York-like skyscrapers? No problem! Go to La Défense which has been arranged exclusively for high-rises since the early 1970s. The authorities are even willing to give a brand-new high-speed rail if investors want to set up a whole city of sorts.
The French have been sober enough not to enter the race to the sky against New York in which they would pay a high price comprising traffic jams, overloaded public services and a lack of fresh air. Apart from the 25-meter golden height limit, Parisian urban planners have imposed other regulations, such as: (i) the depth from the curb to the middle of a plot of land must be universally 20 meters; (ii) if a street is H meters wide, the buildings on it must not be higher than H+2m; H+3m (in the front), H+6 or H+8 (in other positions, depending on the distance from the curb. However, in any case, they cannot exceed the 25-meter threshold). If these restrictions were applied to several narrow backstreets in HCMC such as Suong Nguyet Anh and Bui Thi Xuan, many existent offices and hotels would be gone.
Driven by lax regulations on the height of buildings, the living environment in HCMC is being worsened by ever-growing crowds and vehicles as well as noise and pollution. The ineffective urban governance has allowed not only indiscriminate emergence of high-rises but also unexpected businesses. Many detached houses which normally had a few family members suddenly turned into restaurants or coffee shops frequented by large crowds of customers. The authorities then came up with a proposal to collect toll fees in the downtown. Obviously, citizens have no power over licensing restaurants or hotels, nor the capability to cause traffic jams. How come they have to pay for the consequence?
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if somebody wants to build a high-rise in front of Ben Thanh Market—considered the landmark of HCMC—or anywhere else, provided that he or she has to abide by appropriate universal height restrictions. More specifically, the maximum height should not surpass the width of the surrounding streets plus two meters. It also doesn’t matter if HCMC steals that idea from Paris, provided that our city becomes more clean and green and hospitable to deserve the title “A Destination for the New Millennium.”