13. Social stratification or homogenisation? The residential types and spaces in Linh Dam and its social implication
The eventual outcome of hybrid residential quarter of Linh Dam comprises of roughly three categories of housing – the individual self-built low-density villas and row houses for top-class residents and the medium-density apartment condominium blocks for medium-wealth residents. This was the result of an implicit mixture of communal housing of the pre-Doi Moi communist era and the capitalist flavour outside Vietnam. The development was special in a way that people in different social classes with different wealth (which was also ironic in a “communist” country) coexisted in a single neighbourhood, with the villa centralised around the scenic Linh Dam Lake surrounded by the housing blocks at the periphery.
The types of the domestic space are as follows:
- Row houses: 4-5m in width facing the street and 12-16m in length. Average floor number is 2.43 in Linh Dam. This is echoing the tradition type of tube house and is still the most favourable by Hanoi citizens. All functions of kitchen and laundry are reserved within the house, as opposed with existing practice where residents appropriate street space for these activities.
- Villas: 200-300 sqm, affordable by high-income residents. 3 floors in average in Linh Dam.
- Condominium: 14.16 floors in average, the condominium housing blocks raises the density of construction and opens up the ground for recreational purposes. It was equipped with elevators, public and commercial facilities on ground level, and apartments of 60-96 sqm with 1-3 bedrooms.
In contrast with pre-Doi Moi collective housing plans, there was one unique feature of Linh Dam New Urban Area – its allowance towards self-built housing. In fact, leasing the ownership of self-built plots was the major financial source for HUD and Vietnam government for moving the whole urban plan forward with provision of the housing blocks and public amenities, including schools, police stations and parks. In the original plan, the “constructed landmark, facade architecture, basis height and the height of each floor” of each self-built low-rise block must strictly follow the rules laid out by HUD, to maintain the order and homogeneity of the district. However, it turned out that people individually decorated their facade with different tastes in French colonial style, creating a diverse outlook along the sidewalk. For most of the houses, they were gated to retain the privacy, security and autonomy of the residents; the lack of ground level storefront, as in the traditional shophouses in the Old Quarters, provides a more tranquil living environment while distancing the houses with the street life to a large extent. The street became a more monotonous circulatory experience when tranquility replaced vibrancy.
With the increased privacy within units of both villa and medium-density housing blocks, and the spatial segregation between the two types of housing, the spatial and formal arrangement inevitably disengage its residents from convenient interactions, especially for those in different social strata. This is observable on a satellite photo where the well-planned plots were distinctly filled in with either mid-rises or villas, with the highway No.3 bisecting and disconnecting the Northeast part of the peninsula. With the programmes of the houses all enclosed within the private units, there is less chance for residents to interact with one another when performing domestic work such as cooking and doing laundry.
The discontinuity was compensated with social measures, including the setting up of “resident committees” in Linh Dam, as in all residential areas in Hanoi. The committee acts as an organiser of activities and a leader in discussion and distribution of information to the community. Linh Dam was more successful among NUAs in engaging its community as a whole by organising community activities during festivals, cultural and recreational activities and some open markets during weekends. With similar spatial construct but different target residents, the privately-developed (and gated) NUA Ciputra contains a very different social scene, with its mostly commodified lifestyle and lack of social interactions between its high-income residents.
The relationship between space, social construct of the residents and the social activities thus become interesting: did Linh Dam work for attracting people from different social classes at the same area? Did the architectural and urban space planning matter in fostering social relationship, or instead the social activities and bonding initiated by the residents matter more? Did the urban space made Linh Dam work, or its residents and other institutional factors instead?
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