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Saigon Must Preserve Its Old Buildings: Historian Tim Doling

Resident Saigoneer historian, Tim Doling, was recently did an interview with Vietnam Net where he made a strong case for the preservation of Saigon’s historic buildings.

Doling pointed to other countries that have lost their heritage buildings and have come to regret it:

“Several countries like Britain, Ireland, France, and Singapore among others have experienced the same thing here and they came down the same road as they destroyed a lot of the heritage buildings. And later they have all come to regret it. It’s quite sad to see the same thing happening here again and it seems that nobody learns from the experiences of other countries,” adding that “the destruction of heritages for short-term profits at the end of the day will cause loss of identity of the cities when all the buildings were gone.”

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He argued that if historic buildings continue to be destroyed, Saigon will not only lose its cultural identity, but miss out on the economic benefits they can provide.

Based on the experiences of other countries, reusing and refurbishing old structures can not only raise property values, but also become a valuable draw for history-minded tourists who will spend more time in the city, in turn filling government coffers.

The situation for Saigon’s historic buildings is bleak:

“According to a seminar on “Heritage conservation and sustainable urban development” organized in March in HCMC by the HCMC Urban Development Management Support Center, HCMC Institute for Development Studies, and Tri Viet Sustainable Development Working Group, over the past decade, District 3 has lost 56% of its French villas. Some old buildings located at 12 Le Duan Boulevard (in 1905) and at 213 Dong Khoi Street (in 1929) and at 200 Ly Chinh Thang Street (early 1920s) were demolished. Upcoming ones facing the same destiny include those at 164 Dong Khoi Street (built in the 1920s), at 122 Ly Tu Trong Street (in 1927) and at 159 Ly Tu Trong Street (in 1888).”

Tim also warned that while the once low-rise city centre already seems lost to high-rise development, the sale of the mansion at 112 Võ Văn Tần in District 3 could be the signal for a new wave of unfettered glass-walled tower construction in the former French residential area of District 3. "The price reflects the value of the land and location, and anyone buying that building for US$35 million will need to recoup their investment very quickly. The real estate company handling the sale has already admitted that the only way to do that would be to build a tower with the maximum amount of floor space. They would not be asking that price unless they knew that permission for this kind of construction will be given.

Doling feels that in addition to city authorities, average citizens, especially the youth, should be the custodians of Saigon's architectural heritage.

In addition to being one of Saigoneer’s most valuable contributors, Doling also runs the site Historic Vietnam and has written a number of books including the recently released a fantastic book of Saigon walking tours, Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City.

[Vietnam Net]

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