12. Old quarters and New Urban Area as residential zones – arguments and counter-arguments from the perspective of residents

During the conversion period from traditional housing and previous communist-style collective housing to the modernist NUAs, people were especially skeptical on the high-rise type first introduced in Linh Dam, as Hanoians were used to living in low-rise apartments often fewer than two floors.

Residents in old quarters since Doi Moi

Ever since Doi Moi, the privatisation of property ownership in the developed part of Hanoi had been undergoing rapidly. Due to the unyielding demand on housing, the privatised properties were often extended by its owners around the plot or building up vertically. The flats were then subdivided and rented out subsequently. In the case studies around Quynh Mai area of Gough and Tran in 2009, most of the apartment blocks followed the traditional tube house type, without abruptly changing the original plot definitions. Extensions often took place at pocket spaces between plots.

Different plans of popular housing in Quynh Mai area collected in the 2009 research by Gough and Tran. Note the narrow form of both plans.

The extended parts, interestingly, did not only limit to residential rental. For instance, the space was used as motorbike parking and rental space, small tea or grocery shops for the household to generate income. In fact, the communist Vietnamese government encouraged people to start their businesses and gain income for the “welfare of the nation”. In this way, the traditional shophouse type passed along the history (especially in the oldest quarter at the core of Hanoi) was retained to a certain extent. The interaction between the living components and the street could be mediated by the commercial part, which in turn activated the street with attractions.

However, different people were treated differently by the government by the unjust system of privatisation, which protected the vested interest of those who worked in the government or active supporters of the Communist Party. Mr Tan, an ex-vice-director of a hospital and a senior government official, lived in a 28 m2 apartment. He did not have to even pay for the flat since privatisation, and the interior finish was highly decorated and modernised when compared with the deteriorating outlook. From the plan, it retained the tube house type but it was substantially extended. The plan might be modest by European or American standard but the size of the apartment did not seem to be the most important concern by residents like Mr Tan. 

The plan of the 28 square metre apartment owned by Mr Tan, drawn by Gough and Tran in 2009. Note the substantial part of extension to the right. 

For those who were less privileged or with lower income, the situation would be vastly different. The subdivided units had a smaller habitable area; it was not rare for units without the basic individual sanitary utilities. Mrs Nhu, a low-income mother with two jobless adult children, lived in half of the subdivided apartment and desperately stated that “We don’t need a bigger apartment. We just want the government to give us our own utilities”.

The notable heterogeneity and wealth gap among the residents among the older part of the city might also create social barrier between residents, especially when the living space was cramped and unpleasant.


New Urban Areas: content residents vs skeptic theorists?

Despite the deficiencies mentioned in the previous posts on the spatial and urban condition in Linh Dam, there is a certain degree of discrepancy between views of analysts and residents. Amidst the insufficient public services and the locational disadvantage of Linh Dam and other NUAs in relation to the city centre, residents were generally content with the living and social condition within the community of Linh Dam. The social sustainability was initiated successfully in the case of Linh Dam and some other NUAs.

Summarising interviews separately recorded by Trinh Duy Luan and Hoai Anh Tran, the residents did feel more “relaxed” living in NUAs when compared with crowded city centre, as a result of the abundance of green and public space in Linh Dam and other NUAs (which was virtually absent in older parts of the city), and the relatively more generous residential space. They also felt satisfied with the planning of NUA and the size of their flats.

A typical flat in the high-rise apartment building developed by HUD. Image Courtesy of Maryanne Nguyen.

In terms of social life, on the vast empty outdoor spaces and parks, people were engaged in organising activities themselves. “Traditional community spirit”, as noted by Trinh, was maintained in the NUAs. The relationship between the neighbours was inherited from the communal and village style society, where neighbours knew one another and communicated often. The social connection relied much on the residents themselves and the self-production of public spaces and activities, which somehow worked. Whether the urban space helped in initiating and maintaining this kind of social interaction would be questionable though.

Compiling the up and down sides of the living environment of both old quarters and New Urban Area, the boundary between the planned and the unplanned became blurred. The unplanned part of the planned NUAs was building up the social sustainability of the community; the unplanned old quarters increased the population density in the residential area and maintained the vibrancy of traditional urban fabric, but the living condition varied between individuals of different background.



Gough, Katherine V., and Hoai Anh Tran. “Changing housing policy in Vietnam: Emerging inequalities in a residential area of Hanoi.” Cities 26, no. 4 (2009): 175-86.

Gubry, P. et al. (ed.) The Vietnamese city in transition. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2010.

Luan, T. Duy. “Living in “New Urban Areas”: towards sustainable urban communities in Hanoi, Vietnam.” Environmental Impact II, 2014.

Tran, Hoai Anh. “Urban Space Production in Transition: The Cases of the New Urban Areas of Hanoi.” Urban Policy and Research 33, no. 1 (2014): 79-97.

“2br apartment for rent in linh dam, hoang mai, hanoi, Flat for rent in Vietnam.” Accessed December 21, 2017. http://www.expat.com/en/housing/asia/vietnam/hanoi/40-flats-for-rent/445930-2br-apartment-for-rent-in-linh-dam-hoang-mai-han.html.

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