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Seminar on The Infrastructure of Infrastructure in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Wednesday, 2 August 2017 — Dr Hun Kim, Visiting Fellow at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute, spoke on how urban planning and development in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is simultaneously a highly bureaucratic process on one hand, and also flexible on the other. According to the speaker, this condition is a paradox of late socialism whereby city development across the country has experienced knock-on effects of the transition from planned to a decentralized and market-based system. He explained how this paradox has conditioned the different outcomes of the former French colonial city’s transportation infrastructure projects. The presentation drew 17 attendees from the media, higher educational institutions, organizations as well as private individuals.

The seminar was chaired by Dr Benjamin Loh, Coordinator of the Regional Social and Cultural Studies Programme at the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute(Source: ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Hun Kim highlighted the issues of legal pluralism, decentralization and the dependency on foreign investment and development assistance as both barriers and opportunities to governance of transport infrastructure projects and the real estate sector across Vietnam’s major cities. These projects –– initially planned according to rational planning principles –– are often subsequently disassembled and disarticulated in order to deal with Vietnam’s decentralized governing regime and to meet the demands of foreign investors and assistance providers. This has resulted in an array of infrastructure projects that are built upon different logics of development, conflicting legal and regulatory frameworks, historical legacies, and principles of planning and growth.

The case of the World Bank’s attempt to roll out its Green Transportation Bus Rapid Transit System, modelled after the successful bus rapid transit corridors in Colombia, was discussed during the seminar. Dr Hun Kim explained how the plan was eventually transformed, or “disarticulated”, through competition with other foreign investment projects, most notably the Japanese and Korean rail and metro projects that are currently under construction in the city. While the lack of coordination has often been considered as a failure of urban planning, Dr Hun Kim argued that this flexibility in coordination allows state agencies to meet the needs of foreign investors, attract the capital needed to finance infrastructure projects, and also “hedge different futures” in a bid to attract the best possible outcomes.