HCMC Dining Guide

Monday, November 1, 2010

What Does Development Look Like?

I've talked a good bit about "development" in this blog, so I wanted to take a minute to explain what I mean by that. I'm talking about two aspects of development: economic and infrastructural, both of which are very closely related. Economic development simply means the continued increase of economic wealth in a country; measured in GDP, per capita income, whatever you may please. While there is still plenty of obvious poverty in Vietnam, Saigon's economy has been growing at a rate of 12% a year recently, and this economic explosion has in turn resulted in a massive infrastructure boom. I've mentioned this before as well, but the pace and scale of the construction here is amazing. New stores go from empty interior to completed business in less than a month, new roads and bridges are going up all over the place, and construction cranes dot large parts of the horizon. There are numerous either recently completed or in-progress flagship projects going on here. I was going to include a city map at this point but there literally isn't a single good one on the entire internet.

One project is the Bitexco Finanical Tower, of which there are several pictures in earlier posts, which will be opening within the next few days, from the looks of things. Another is the Thu Thiem Bridge, which connects Binh Thanh District to District 2. I took several of the pictures from the last post from it, and while it's not a huge bridge, it is an important one, as I'll explain shortly. Next year the Thu Thiem Bridge will be joined by the Thu Thiem Tunnel in making District 2 far more accessible than it is right now. The tunnel is being drilled under the Saigon River, and it will connect Districts 1 and 2. Why all the emphasis on connecting District 2? Well, the provincial government has authorized a plan to simply move the residential, financial, and administrative center of the city from D1 to D2, through a project called the Thu Thiem New Urban Area.  The New Urban Area will contain apartment complexes, condos, office buildings, parks, and recreation areas, and nearly every building will be between 10 and 40-stories tall. When I heard about this project I was stunned. Moving the downtown of a city a few miles away? That's insane. This is the kind of massive, hugely ambitious project that can really only be dictated by government fiat in a one-party state. I have no idea if it will actually work, but still, how imaginative!

The final major project I'd like to mention is the Phu My bridge. This has made an appearence in earlier posts as well, and today I went for a joy ride across this beast. The bridge connects District 7 to District 2 in another attempt to improve access to the other side of the river. It is also part of a ring road that is currently under construction around the city. The apex of the bridge is probably the best spot in the city to see the sprawl of Saigon, from downtown all the way out to the port facilities. Luckily, it is apparently normal here to stop and park your bike on bridges, so I joined several other people along the railings on the edge of the bridge and snapped some pictures of the city. The rest of this post will be mostly visual.

Phu My Bridge
Ships and cranes at Saigon Port
Downtown. As you can tell all of this growth makes for some hazy days.
Construction
More construction
Still more...
I think you get the point.
You need a port to handle all of the things that the people who will live in those buildings will want.

River, port, city
The Saigon River littered with ships and boats of all sizes.
One last shot of the bridge.
I had a good video to upload, but it was taking hours to add, so I might just try another time. But, just from pictures, you can tell the scale of some of the projects going on here. Before I left the States, many people asked me how I could possibly live in Vietnam - they seemed to think it was some third-world backwater full of rice paddies and ox carts. After hearing that, one of my goals upon arrival was to prove that Vietnam is a country on the move, hurtling towards modernity at breakneck pace. I think I've done a decent job of that so far, and this post should prove that further.

Finally, happy Halloween to those stateside! Now, time to go to sleep, since I'm getting up early for the Steelers v. Saints game.

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