In my bustling neighborhood in the Cau Giay District of Hanoi, I can see over a billion dollars of local investment and foreign direct investment (FDI) from my front door, so to speak, where new condos, office buildings, and hotels are sprouting up like mushrooms. A field that just a few years ago was a hot spot for grazing cows during the day and chirping frogs at night, and that was countryside a mere decade ago, is now the site of one of Vietnam’s most famous talented and gifted high schools (i.e., Hanoi-Amsterdam), the Grand Plaza Hanoi Hotel, Charm Vit Tower, Mandarin Garden luxury condominiums, and the Keangnam Hanoi Landmark Tower, a $1.05 billion, 70-story building (second from right) that is Vietnam’s tallest and the 36th tallest in the world, among other large-scale residential and commercial construction projects.
A couple of kilometers down the road, heading out of the city, new neighborhoods are being created as if out of thin air. This is the Vietnam of 2012. (The preceding is an edited excerpt from a 2011 article I wrote entitled Letting in the Fresh Air and the Flies: The Mixed Impact of US Higher Education on Vietnam.) Amazingly, in spite of the economic difficulties Vietnam is currently experiencing, most of the projects continue unabated.
This 24/7 frenzy of construction means lots of jobs, higher quality of life for those who can afford it, greater convenience, more entertainment options, etc. That’s the good news. Conversely, the neighborhood is beginning to look and sound like New York City – more congestion, noise (even if you factor out the 24/7 construction), and pollution, and less green space for relaxation and sports. More concrete also means more retained heat, not an insignificant factor in a city located in a subtropical climate in which the daily high in July, for example, is 32°C (about 90°F).
For those who may not know, the subtitle of this post and the aforementioned article about the mixed impact of US higher education on Vietnam is a reference to one of Deng Xiaoping’s favorite sayings in the early 1980s about China’s development and opening up to the world.