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Can Saigon Preserve its Historical Architecture?

The Ho Chi Minh City’s People’s Committee has launched a program aimed at preserving the city's architectural gems. Unfortunately, the focus is on the city's famous buildings rather than sites that are seriously threatened by unchecked development.

The program, with the intent to list and preserve Saigon’s artistic, iconic and collective architectural items, will rank sites based on the results of the Cultural Heritage Law, expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The list will be managed by the Geographic Information System (GIS), which is designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage and present different types of geographical data.

The program will also establish an agency which will identify and protect the city’s finest buildings and landscapes.

This is welcome news but it remains to be seen how far this program’s reach will extend. Other cities, such as New York, which places strong emphasis on preserving historical architecture, go to great lengths to do so. They place tight restrictions on not only changes to individual buildings, (singer, Nora Jones, spent years fighting her neighborhood preservation society to install new windows on her $4.9 million Brooklyn home) but entire neighborhoods.

Yes, the opera house is nice and the People’s Committee building has a majestic glow at night but these buildings are in no danger of being knocked down. The real danger to Saigon’s architectural history is its unregulated development and lack of zoning laws. This not only results in the loss of individual buildings but can change the face of an entire neighborhood.

Unlike cities such as New York, in Saigon, development overrides posterity. This is partially due to lack of regulations, but also class economics. It’s easy to tell a millionaire home owner to make costly repairs and upgrades to their Brooklyn brownstone but it’s unrealistic to expect the same from a middle-class shop house owner in District 5. This issue played out recently at Duong Lam ancient village where residents, unable to make costly repairs or expand their homes, have requested that the town’s heritage site title be removed.

We are huge proponents of preserving Saigon’s architectural soul but fear that this plan is too little too late. What's really needed is a preservation plan with a wider scope, one that doesn't concentrate on landmarks, but rather fine examples of architecture across the city. Zoning regulations would also go a long way in protecting the character of historical neighborhoods.

[Photo via OldSaigon]

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