saigon river ngvantrung.jpg
HCM City (Photo: Nguyen Van Trung)

VietNamNet talked with Son about the idea of awakening the Sai Gon River, which is believed to be a new driving force for HCM City growth.

Is HCM City a river city’?

In its over 300 years of development, Sai Gon – HCM City has always been associated with rivers and water. We have Binh Dong, Bach Dang, Nha Rong wharves, and we have boat wharves along the intricate canal system. Since ancient times, it has always been a city of river. 

However, from 1975 to doi moi (renovation), HCM City developed with its back to the river, and waterway transportation was not good. That's a pity. The situation lasted for several decades.

From the 2000s onwards, HCM City began paying attention to developing riverside areas. The municipal authorities launched canal and arroyo rehabilitation, and organized an international competition in 2023 to seek ideas for Thu Thiem new urban area development planning. And the city has begun developing towards the other side of the river, and removed Ba Son and Tan Cang.

However, at first, the development was without any methodical planning. Some construction works on riverside have arisen, and individuals and institutions tend to occupy riverside area as their own properties.

Only recently have local authorities begun rethinking the development of HCM City by removing unlicensed projects on the riverside and rehabilitating the green corridor along the river. Leaders of the city now can see the value of a city of water.

In 2022, Tuoi Tre Newspaper organized a competition to seek the ideas for Sai Gon river development. What did you say to HCM City’s leaders during the trip to survey the river?

I mentioned three things. First, the value of the two sides of Sai Gon River and potential for exploitation is great. Second, multi-storey buildings close to the river must not be encouraged. Third, waterway transport is chaotic and it needs restructuring. High-rise buildings must move back to give space back to the riverside.

Which river city model do you think HCM City should consider when planning HCM City development?

There is no model which can be 100 percent applied to HCM City. Every river in the world bears its own characteristics and Sai Gon River also needs to maintain its identity.

However, I think we can consider the Seine River development model in France in organizing the space on the two sides of the river related to the waterway transport and lighting system. We also can learn from Amstel River in the Netherlands (waterway transport system), and Huangpu River in Shanghai, China (the space alongside the river and greenery).

I think that there should be strategic orientations HCM City should follow. First, Sai Gon River needs to be considered as the landscape backbone for the entire city and a green focal point of the city.

Second, Sai Gon River needs to tell the story about its history of 300 years of development.

We need to preserve the historical space on some river sections, such as Bach Dang and Nha Rong Wharves, and Thu Ngu flag pole. Meanwhile, other sections need embellishment such as Sai Gon and Ba Son Port, and the river sections going through Tan Thuan EPZ (export processing zone) and Than Da peninsula need new development.

And third, I can imagine that the conservation and development of Sai Gon River is just like a symphony, with dynamic climax, joy, smoothness and silence.

Imagine that the background of the symphony is the green space on the water surface, with a riverside green corridor of at least 50 meters. That is the frame of the symphony.

Meanwhile, there should be climax and dynamic areas such as the central area on both sides of the river (Thu Thiem and District 1) with big festivals, exciting activities and fireworks.

There should also be lively river sections like Tan Cang, Ba Son, Sai Gon Port; and peaceful spaces like the river section going through Tan Thuan EPZ and Thanh Da peninsula. And finally, the river needs a space of peace, which could be Can Gio biosphere reserve. As such, you will have different emotions when you passing different river sections.

Every river contains the history and culture of the land. What would you say about the conservation and culture development when developing Sai Gon River?

As I said above, Sai Gon River needs to be developed in a way that allows it to tell the story about 300 years of development history. In addition to the works that need conservation, we should create public green spaces and improve waterway transport.

Linh Giao