14. Mobility and affordability: another perspectives of social homogeneity of Linh Dam
Continuing from the previous post on social outcomes brought by the New Urban Area, Linh Dam and other NUAs were observed for their social homogeneity of their residents. Most of the residents, no matter living in different architectural forms of condominium or individual houses, belong to more or less middle- or high-income social level. The NUAs seemingly created communities for the general bourgeoisie arose from the relaxation of communist economy. Why was the intention differed from the original plan of merging different low and high social levels? Did NUAs attract low-income residents from the city core to spread the living density to the greater sprawl?
The average commute time in the city of Hanoi is 19 minutes. Hanoi citizens had been used to short-distance commute, which was reflected in the shophouse type of commercial-residential complex. Among NUAs, Linh Dam is one of the nearest to the city centre, taking 10 minutes drive to the nearest point of CBD. The wide road system (with widths between 15-35m) in NUAs also prioritised vehicular passage for efficient commute.
The government also considered the zoning of the city coupling with the residential NUAs. The 1993 land law was the starting point of the changes, when the government planning focus shifts to the “international” standard of district specialisation. In the pre-Doi Moi era, the work-housing units were grounded on the traditional idea of living and working at one single place; this was also part of the socialist ideal with the self-efficiency in district level. With the start of Doi Moi, the industry started to move to the outlying parts of the city, including Sai Dong A, Sai Dong B, Thang Long, Noi Bai Soc-Son and Hanoi-Dai Tu. As most of the low-income residents are labours with relatively low education level and skills, they tend to be industrial workers. The proximity of the residential NUAs with the industrial zones should theoretically attract industrial workers to reside in NUAs like Linh Dam.
However, for the commute trips involving entrance to the older part of the city, the narrow streets contribute to a congested traffic within the old quarters. As most of the core functions of the city are still being concentrated around the old quarters, living out of the core still decreases the convenience of the residents in terms of mobility. The underdeveloped public transport in Hanoi was not yet functioning properly and conveniently, and only contributed to around 10% of trips taken within the city. Most of the trips rely on motorbikes, which is a convenient choice navigating within the narrow paths of central Hanoi.
The pace of creating new residential quarter, for the first time in history of Hanoi, failed to catch up with the fast-growing demand. The speculation of land ownership was prevalent and the land and houses in NUAs quickly become unaffordable, despite the relatively cheap initial land price. For instance, in the extreme case of Trung Hoa-Nhanh Chinh, the prices of “low-income” housing increased by 10 times in 5 years since its completion. Same case in Linh Dam, where minimum price of housing were increased from around US$8000 to US$13000 in a few years time. Only around 50% of people could afford a flat, which was obviously violating the original intention of the government. The low-income workers had no choice but to reside at dormitories of the factories instead, and the quality of life was not benefitted with the new development.
Culminating the factors mentioned above, the unintended social homogeneity in Linh Dam was caused mainly by the socio-economic factor of high property prices. The socio-economic and institutional factors should not be neglected in the realm of urbanism, as it greatly and inevitably affects the outcome and the success of the project, independent of the architectural or urbanistic intention.
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