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Visiting a vastly more liveable Hanoi!

October 11, 2016 By Debra Efroymson Cars, Cities, Cycling, Exercise, Happiness, Livable Cities, Public Spaces, Urban Planning, Vietnam, Walking Post a comment!

A mobile playground in Hanoi.

It's been over two years since I have visited Hanoi...and the main reason why I've stayed away this long is the traffic. Hanoi was a bicycle city when I lived here in the 1990s. Since then the motorbike, and somewhat the car, have taken over, blocking the streets and sidewalks, polluting the air, and making walking or cycling nearly impossible. 

Just recently I had heard from our HealthBridge Vietnam staff that the government had put into place an amazing new initiative, making the area around a small central lake vehicle-free a few evenings over the weekend. What I failed to grasp is that it is vehicle-free from Friday evening through Sunday evening...and that many of the neighbouring streets, in the Old Quarter, are also vehicle-free, though only Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. 

I ventured out on Friday evening to have a look, already exhausted from walking two hours earlier in the day. I planned to have a quick glance, then go back to my hotel and rest. I landed up wandering for two hours. The streets were full of life: thriving sidewalk cafes with diners watching the activity on the streets, children cycling, musicians playing, traditional actors performing, and a sense of enjoyment of the city. An old woman selling a traditional dessert explained to her customers that she only sells those three evenings a week, as otherwise there isn't enough business, with the streets and sidewalks clogged with moving and parked motorbikes. A child begged her mother to stay out longer so she could continue playing. Not only was it a pleasure to walk--and dance--in the middle of the street, but to enjoy the small central lake without the constant beeping of horns. I returned again over the next two days, enjoying the sensation of peace and pleasure. Small children could safely cycle, while teens and adults strolled...on the surprisingly civilized streets.

My hearty congratulations go to the local government of Hanoi for helping transform the city. Now if only those changes would be part of daily life and spread throughout the city, instead of being a much-needed exception! 

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