Saigon’s Sidewalks Back to Their Old State

Daily News - Saigon/HCMC: July 17, 2017

Several months after a senior official of Ho Chi Minh City’s downtown District 1 launched a campaign to reclaim the sidewalks occupied by street vendors, outdoor eateries and other businesses throughout the district, the sidewalks in District 1 streets are now reoccupied.

In February Mr. Doan Ngoc Hai, deputy chairman of District 1’s People’s Committee, vowed to restore sidewalk space with the hope of turning Saigon’s downtown area into a “mini Singapore”.

A series of actions followed suit. Authorities put up barriers and deployed police to stop motorbikes from driving on the sidewalks. They towed vehicles, including government cars, and destroyed any invasive constructions that spilled out onto the street – some of which belonged to 5-star hotels.

sidewalk saigonImage source: baomoi.com

Three months later, the pavement reclamation campaign was suspended – Hai said he was ordered by the Party unit and the government of District 1 to stop.

Since then, vehicles and businesses have slowly returned to the sidewalks.

Some streets in District 1 now look as if there was never a war on occupied pavements.

The use of the pavements for business practices is commonplace both day and night.According to news website Dan Tri, some restaurants fined for occupying the sidewalks during Mr. Hai’s campaign are breaking the law again.

Old Habits Die Hard

In fact, banning the occupation of sidewalks is not a new initiative. In 1995, a government decree was issued with strict regulations to ban the occupation of sidewalks and roadside areas.

sidewalk saigonImage source: baomoi.com

No one knows exactly when the sidewalks in Vietnam first started to act as business spaces rather than public thoroughfares. “The sidewalks are not only for walking” is now a common phrase in the country.

So when Mr. Hai started the campaign, many thought that it would come to nothing, as old habits die hard.

Case Sensitive

On the other hand, what Mr. Hai did was a sensitive issue because sidewalk culture is one of the main tourist attractions of Saigon.

For a large number of street vendors both in Saigon and across the country, the sidewalk is their livelihood.

The sidewalk reclamation campaign has raised concerns for being too extreme, as when police seized street vendors’ shops on wheels.

sidewalk saigonImage source: infonet.vn

When Mr. Hai became serious about restoring order on the sidewalks, he failed to suggest any alternatives that might be available to street vendors if his campaign eliminates their current occupation.

How is More Important Than What

It should be noted that motorbikes take up more space than vendors on sidewalks.

sidewalk saigonImage source: baomoi.com

In the book “Sidewalk City” by Annette M. Kim, Associate Professor at the University of Southern California's Price School of Public Policy, Kim measured the use of sidewalk space and found that vendors take up less space than motorbikes but employ a lot more people.

Banner image source: baomoi.com