Editor’s Note: Each UC Berkeley Masters of City Planning student must submit a final thesis or professional/client report. Michael, a future Oscar-winner, is the first student to submit his thesis in film. This is the trailer to his film.
Vietnam is slated to become the world’s fastest urbanizing country, overtaking South Korea and China. City of the River Within discovers this rapid ‘development’ overtaking the country’s capital as beautiful parks and treasured lakes around its original neighborhoods increasingly disappear under skyscrapers and the encroachment of private and public interests.
This particular form of unchecked development, most notably in the developing world, usually occurs in the world’s megacities (10 million plus people) where the infrastructure cannot cope with the large intake of rural migrant populations searching for work. My film takes stock of Vietnam’s unique history and challenges to question whether or not Hanoi (a city of over 8 million) will similarly collapse under it’s own growth or find a balance. The battle for control over the right to the city’s spaces begins with residents speaking up and telling their stories. Hanoians contest the future of their city in light of an overwhelming “state capitalist” system, both feudalistic and haphazard.
We meet several dozen characters from all walks of life in this struggle. We befriend the leader of a graffiti crew, “5hadows”. We gain the trust of artist and journalist Thuy Nguyen, organizer of Hanoi’s Guinness World Record holding and controversial ceramic wall mural. We speak with architects, users and employees of Hanoi’s most treasured park threatened by developers and of Peace Park, Vietnam’s newest and most expensive public space. We help neighborhood leaders tell their side of the story in reclaiming a landfill and other wasted spaces for their communities. Their stories compel us to reflect not only on Vietnams’ self-determination and sustainability, but our own future in an increasingly urbanized world.
City of the River Within is in principle 5 chapters.
The River Within
Hanoi’s tranquil Red River breaks a massive, growing city in two. We learn a brief history of Vietnam’s unique challenges, and their similarities, with other hyper-urbanizing countries.
Hanoi’s biggest challenges
The case of Vietnam’s historical context and the phenomenon of urbanization and the haphazardly planned capital city Hanoi produces its own set of constraints unique to few countries urbanizing at the rate of Vietnam. We encounter floods and lack of water amidst confusing streets and questionable pedestrian tunnels.
The Wall / Graffiti never dies
Ha Noi’s now famous Guinness World Record 7km-long Ceramic Wall Mural (Con Duong Gom Su) is both a symbol of Hanoi’s progress economically but also in its continued lack of true community participation. It took years of blood, sweat, tears and millions of dollars to create this beautiful gift for Ha Noi’s millennial anniversary, say’s its creator Thuy Nguyen. Many Hanoians see the wall differently: as corporate art. We also meet 5HADOWS a painter who uses Ha Noi’s walls as canvasses. 5HADOWSs introduces us to a graffiti culture in Viet Nam where some artists They envision a Ha Noi where artists have places to practice and can beautify an all-too-often bleak urban landscape.
Reunification/Peace/Lenin and other public places
The second story is about parks and lakes. Reunification (Thong Nhat) park and Peace (Hoa Binh) park are contested space – the former one of the oldest and most beloved, the later the newest, most expensive park in Viet Nam. Both parks are spaces of tranquility with large man-made lakes. Both also overlap in controversy and evidence that public parks in Hanoi are fast becoming privatized and in poorer quality at a time where more public space, collective community oversight and urban ecology are more needed. The users, abusers, builders, architects, ‘homeless occupiers’, and employees of these parks (and others) speak and show the power of the average citizen and the state colliding.
Gardens and playgrounds of hope?
The final landscape wrestles with the imaginations and hopes of communities. Together with a local NGO called “Action for City”, they have managed to influence the community planning process for the better. We meet the women warriors of “Phuc Tan” community who have turned the landfill flowing with garbage through their community on the edge of the red-river into urban gardens. Across town we see a playground and exercise space in an otherwise muddy and poor part of Ha Noi. Ha Dinh community worked for years through the local channels in order to turn a wasted space into a space of hope. They stand as counterweight examples to the rushing flood of water, cars, pollution and people quickly overcoming and erasing public space on Hanoi’s land use map.