Ho Chi Minh City’s Disappearing Shanty Houses

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HO CHI MINH CITY | Ho Chi Minh City (“HCMC”) is a place that’s undergoing rapid change. Upon visiting the city in 2017 I was amazed at how many parts where unrecognisable from my prior visit in 2013. Cranes fill the skyline, constructing high rise office towers, apartments, and hotels filled with luxury shopping malls, while giant boring machines drill tunnels that will one day form the backbone of HCMC’s new subway system.

One of the most recognisable parts of the city which is rapidly disappearing are the slums and shanty houses that line the Mekong river and canals that wind through the city. The city’s slum clearance program began in 1993 however there were still over 20,000 shanty houses remaining in 2017. The government has pledged to remove the vast majority of them within a decade, citing danger to those who live there, drainage obstructions, pollution and flooding risk.

One look at the houses, rickety structures built of wood, concrete, tin and more, certainly doesn’t inspire confidence in their construction, and the waterways that they occupy are indeed polluted. However, in the case of many of the houses, there’s no denying that they sit on what is fast becoming prime real estate.

800 houses located in Binh Thanh District’s Van Thanh trench, for example, were removed for tunneling for one of the new metro lines, while many of the houses on the Mekong river itself are very central, in areas where it’s not hard to image restaurants and bars, houses and hotels, and more being built in the not so distant future. The question is, once the houses are gone, where to the residents go?

Some residents from prior slum clearing programs were moved into social housing projects, however many have argued that future slum clearances haven’t dealt with the issue of relocation and compensation adequately. Do the residents want to move? Will they be able to recreate the sense of community that they currently have? Will they be as centrally located as they currently are?

As with any rapidly developing city there are always going to be winners and losers and the full effects of the process will only become apparent in the future. As a visitor, a tour of the shanty houses along the Mekong river is highly recommended, and the most should be made of the opportunity to see this way of life and makeshift architecture before it no longer exists.

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Paul
Paul founded The City Lane back in 2009 as a place to share photos of his travels around Europe with friends and family. The City Lane might have changed quite a lot since those early days but one thing that’s remained constant is Paul’s passion for food, travel and culture, and a desire to photograph and write about his experiences.Paul has a strong inquisitive nature that drives him to look beneath the surface in order to discover what really makes a city and its people tick, and what better way to do this than over a good meal or drink, with a city’s locals, at places that people who live in that city actually frequent. Paul is also a co-host of The Brunswick Beer Collective, a podcast that may or may not actually be about beer.

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