DR2008_02_Reading: Seen and unseen: Ho Chi Minh City’s sidewalk life

Sidewalk City: Remapping Public Space in Ho Chi Minh City (2015) by Annette Kim , Chapter 1: Seen and unseen: Ho Chi Minh City’s sidewalk life
Sidewalk City: Remapping Public Space in Ho Chi Minh City

The reading talks about a very interesting issue of sidewalk of Ho Chi Minh City. Comparing to the past, new paradigm seems to be that people on the sidewalk need to keep moving. This occurs with policy documents rationales about modernity, efficient and safe transportation, improved public health and food safety, and attracting international tourism in order to be a modern, world-class city. It was also mentioned that sidewalks are particularly important for economy due to the presence of sidewalk vending. It is  even said that in many cities the main public space is the street and when people stopped walking in the street, the sidewalk.

Therefore, it’s been questioned on how sidewalks serve its function as public space with all its existing problems. Yet, at the same time the solution proposed often homogenous which often end up demolishing what is valuable and unique to each city. Sidewalks has been the communicator of tale of human condition, it does not impact the city only in physical space but also social space. In response to that, urban planning require understanding of the design problem that also pre-suppose a heterogeneous public that can be done by going out to the site and interviewing and observing people. Therefore, since the meaning and use of space is not necessarily revealed in the built form itself, the  roles and rules about those spaces need to be observed as well. It includes system of claims to sidewalk space: the parties involved, the terms of use, under what conditions, enforcement institutions, etc. which depend upon factors such as history, culture, demographics, etc.

Sidewalks as public space where public space is often initially thought of as a commons, where there is open access to a space. However, because of land’s physical boundedness, there is a limit to how many people can enjoy the space at any given time where at a certain point, the value of the space declines with overuse. This returns us to the discussion about the advantages and disadvantages between local discretion and standardization. It is about physical environment created by these regimes in terms of functionality and livability for the broader public, both the social and physical dimensions of their sidewalk practices, how they are socially negotiated, and the city they construct.

This reading has actually remind me of my hometown where it is very common for vending to be on the sidewalks. I grew up spending money and time on those stalls and I honestly feel safe there, not only because of the relatively cheap stuff but also the friendliness of the vendors. It has been a part of my childhood memory and imagining the culture might be gone in the future has actually saddened me. I personally believe that such activities plays important role in shaping the culture of a city, thus its existence  need to be supported rather than opposed, even for the sake of economic development. I wouldn’t want to imagine the future time when I could only tell stories about what used to exist without being able to visit them in person anymore. I feel that, to lose a culture is part of losing a part of everyone who has memory about it as well.

[1] Kim, Annette Miae. Sidewalk City: Remapping Public Space in Ho Chi Minh City. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015.

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