In 2021, Vietnam witnessedanother difficult year in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic. Although the pandemic has been somewhat controlled in the country, there have been local waves of domestic transmission and local lockdowns every few months and Vietnam has been facing severe economic hardship. However, the pandemic forced Vietnam to rethink the nature of urban space and plan for more sustainable, resilient and livable cities in order to get the country back on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In urban communities, residents and professionals appreciate public spaces in a way they have never before, which presents opportunities to support people in becoming more involved in their neighbourhoods. In tourism cities like HoiAn, which is used to tourism being the main driver of its policy aims, the absence of tourists has forced the Government to re-direct their public spaces and transportation policy to target local residents. COVID-19 has also changed people’s diets and they are more aware of the importance of a resilient food system in which urban food markets play an important role.
HealthBridge Vietnam (HBV) focuses on making urban neighbourhoods more livable and conducive to healthy lifestyles. Its three main areas of work are:
Access to Parks and Public Spaces – The number of safe, accessible and fun public spaces in Vietnamese cities has been steadily decreasing, while the public is increasingly demanding that governments create and maintain public spaces. However, without a clear strategic vision, many city governments lack the resources and capacity to develop public spaces to meet these demands. HBV’s activities include research and pilot projects, as well as working with local groups and officials in the cities of Hanoi, Hoi An and Hue to develop clear strategies for developing and maintaining public spaces.
Access to Healthy Transportation – Motorcycle use has rapidly become the main mode of transportation in Vietnam and is now the most common way to take primary school children to and from school. HBV, with local partners in Hanoi, is working to develop safe routes with the goal that more children will be walking to school on a regular basis. In addition, HBV is working with the Hoi An City government to develop an active transportation master plan that will support and encourage local residents to walk and cycle throughout the city. Finally, HBV is working with the Ho Chi Minh City government and partners on a project to increase pedestrian safety in the city.
Preserving Local Public Markets – As a result of increasing modernization, the number of local public markets in Hanoi has been steadily decreasing. They are being replaced by supermarkets, shopping malls and commercial centres, resulting in decreased access to fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the city, especially for the urban poor. HBV’s activities including raising awareness among decision-makers about the important role that fresh markets play in the health and economy of the city. Research, campaigns and workshops are being organized to create the support necessary to protect and preserve the local public markets.
Expected results include increased numbers of:
- Increased number of people using open public spaces
- Increased number of quality improvements to open public spaces
- Increased number of open public spaces
- Increased number of local public markets saved
- Increased number of quality improvements to local public markets
- Increased number of people who can easily access fruits and vegetables
- Increased number of streets that support walking and cycling
- Increased number of people who can walk or cycle to their destination, such as transit.
Key successes to date include:
- Five new mobile/pop-up playgrounds were created and the project benefited 500 children, helping them to recover from the social isolation experienced during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
- Increased the safety of cyclists in Hoi An by improving the cycling infrastructure and introducing a bicycle sharing program.
- The Hoi An Parks Master Plan 2015-2020, which was a critical document that protected public spaces in the city.
- In 2013 the Hanoi government announced they would stop replacing markets with commercial centres. We estimate that approximately 2700 vendors’ livelihoods were saved and the approximately 279,000 people who shop at these markets continue to be able to buy healthy fresh food close to home.