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As the City Stretches – Part 1 - The Pursuit of Sustainable Development

Over the past decade, Saigon has outgrown its traditional boundaries, forcing development not only vertically but horizontally. As the sky above District 1 becomes increasingly crowded and land scarce, city planners have been looking for ways to expand Saigon’s business center.

It just so happens that there is a relatively undeveloped peninsula directly across from the gleaming skyscrapers of downtown - Thu Thiem, which the government has chosen for a massive 21st century urban district.

Saigon has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a small Khmer fishing village. The Saigon metropolitan area is currently home to over 9 million inhabitants, a number that is predicted to rise to 20 million by 2020. Up to this point, haphazard construction in the city's outer districts has accommodated the dramatic rise in population. But this quick-fix approach has come at a cost of sustainable urban planning. Streets can be impossibly small, sewage systems are overwhelmed and flooding occurs in even the most moderate rains. These areas are amorphous, changing rapidly in character and composition, with little or no oversight.

From this expierence, city planners seemed to have learned 2 things. 1 – There is no more space to develop in the city’s traditional urban boundaries (land clearance in the districts mentioned above would be an absolute nightmare). 2 - Future development must be kept in-check and done sustainably if Saigon seeks to continue its ascent to regional economic powerhouse.

Saigon’s first major foray into sustainable development started in 1993 when the city began plans for Saigon South. The project's crown jewel, Phu My Hung, was the first in Vietnam to promote the condominium concept. Since its completion, Phu My Hung has been a success among expats and wealthy Vietnamese and has expanded recently with the addition of The Crescent, a waterfront retail and residential area. While successful, Phu My Hung, which lies over 7km from downtown is a retail center, not a commercial one. It is not only too far to be an extension of Saigon's commercial center but was never developed to be so in the first place.

There are plenty of other projects, both completed and in the works that promote Saigon’s sustainable development. But there is one mega project that, if when completed, will change the face of Saigon forever – the Thu Thiem Urban Area.

Check back here for Part 2 of this series where we’ll take a detailed look at the master plan for Thu Thiem.

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