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New concept needs new approaches

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HCMC’s “Eastern City” initiative is of strategic importance to national development. The central Government should therefore give HCMC’s authorities ample autonomy so that the project can be implemented successfully, experts say.

It’s not rare in the world that a new city is formed to bolster regional or national growth. Urban centers have always been growth engines which can help achieve economic breakthroughs in the shortest time possible.

In line with this spirit, the “Eastern City,” a new concept framed by the HCMC authorities, has recently resurfaced as a  hot-button topic when the city government stepped up its efforts to seek central approval for its new growth engines.

A new concept formulated

In fact, the concept of establishing “a city within a city” was first cited years ago when the HCMC authorities came up with an initiative for new mechanisms applicable to its four conceived cities—East, West, North, South—which each was intended to have its own urban government directly affiliated to the HCMC government. Each city would enjoy strong deregulation to raise its autonomy and responsibility so as to actively spur growth and independence. This was the first attempt by the HCMC authorities to introduce the project to set up the new urban government back in 2013.

However, the HCMC government seemed to “go ahead of time” when the proposal was rejected because Vietnam’s legal framework back then contained no stipulations for “a city within a city” mechanisms.

Now in an attempt to revive a similar concept, the HCMC government is beginning preparations for the setting up of what it calls the “Eastern City,” or “Creative Urban Center,” which is geographically based on the existing Districts 2 and 9 and Thu Duc District.

The efforts to rearrange the three districts to form a city under the HCMC authorities are part of the second pilot project to establish the new urban government which is being hurriedly finished to be forwarded to the central Government in the third quarter of this year, reported vnexpress.net.

If approved, the “Eastern City” will stretch on a total area of 22,000 hectares and be home to 1.1 million permanent residents. As its name may suggest, the “Creative Urban Center” is a model of highly interactive urban hub that HCMC is striving for. The existing facilities already in place include the Saigon High-Tech Park in District 9, the Vietnam National University-HCMC in Thu Duc District and Thu Thiem New Urban Center in District 2.

The Vietnam National University-HCMC is a scientific hub in itself formed by 18 member universities and research institutes. The SHTP, a vast high-tech park on an area of more than 1,000 hectares, has attracted 13 foreign business groups, some of which are world-class high-tech companies. Meanwhile, the 657-hectare commercial and financial services center in the Thu Thiem Urban Center is in the making. Joining forces with the creative city are operational industrial zones and export-processing zones, including Linh Trung 1 and Linh Trung 2, Cat Lai and Binh Chieu.

According to vnexppress.net, HCMC Chairman Nguyen Thanh Phong said the Eastern City will serve as a hub for spurring the economic growth of HCMC and the Southern Vital Economic Zone in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution based on the existing facilities. The new city is to combine three key functions, which are a hub for scientific and technological research, a center for high-quality human resources training and a manufacturing and trading base for high-tech products and services.

Also according to vnexpress.net, the new creative hub is expected to set up a value-added chain reliant on high-tech, whose technical and social infrastructure is in conformity with international standards and effective support for the corporate sector.

Necessary mechanisms

As mentioned earlier in this article, “a city within a city” is an unprecedented step forward in Vietnam, which has yet to gain consent from the central authorities.

In another article posted by vnexpress.net, Ngo Viet Nam Son, an architect and urban planning specialist, said HCMC’s “Eastern City” should be given exceptional mechanisms so that it can grow effectively the way Pudong or Gangnam do.

The “Eastern City” should be given special institutions on a pilot basis to help it develop, said Son. Such a new city will require enormous capital to set up, he explained, which means it is desperately in need of open and effective ways to lure both domestic and overseas capital sources. If the establishment of such a city relies solely on HCMC’s budget, it will take a long time.

“The establishment of the ‘Eastern City’ will help significantly increase HCMC’s regional gross domestic product (RGDP),” said Son. “However, to realize that goal, it requires new approaches and suitable solutions.”

Talking to vnexpress.net, Dr. Huynh The Du, lecturer of Fulbright University Vietnam, contended that the successful implementation of the “Eastern City” project will help solve two strategic problems for Vietnam, including the creation of a new growth wave and the enforcement of national security in response to new complicated developments at the regional and international scales.

Du argued that now is the right time to start the new city given the switch of global value chains away from China due to Covid-19. The new situation will speed up the process, said Du. As Vietnam’s biggest economic center and the first place for breakthroughs, HCMC, he maintained, is poised to succeed.

Experience gained from similar models in the world, particularly Gangnam, a city south of the Han River in South Korea’s capital of Seoul, and Pudong in Shanghai, China, should be carefully scrutinized.

Du said the south of the Han River in Seoul in the 1960s was an area of farming land with a very thin population. Yet the subsequent success of Gangnam as a new city adjacent to Seoul manifests the grand and comprehensive vision of the Government of South Korea and the authorities of Seoul.

Likewise, at the very beginning of the implementation of the Pudong project in Shanghai, it was regarded as a national key project.

Compared with the conditions during the time when Gangnam and Pudong were set up, HCMC’s “Eastern City” is more favorable considering its infrastructure and connection conditions. The land for the new city is already in place and fundamental components for a financial-commercial center in Thu Thiem New Urban Area are ready. What’s more, added Du, the high-tech park has asserted its prestige and efficiency.

“This pioneering project is of strategic importance to the national development,” Du told vnexpress.net. “The central Government should gives HCMC ample autonomy so that it can implement the project successfully.”

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