Jon over at The final Word...in Saigon just posted a very comprehensive and thoroughly researched description of current and planned development projects in TP. Hồ Chí Minh. He is looking forward 13 years to a dream of "gleaming highways and sleek Japanese style bullet trains" by the year 2020.
I agree with Jon's vision of infrastructure development by 2020. But there seems to be a current malaise within the TPHCM government at this time. Jon alluded to the delays in getting subway lines under construction. Current infrastructure projects including canal cleaning and sewage infrastructure are delayed due to inadequate financing by construction contractors, and other infrastructure projects have failed, such as the bridge across Rach (canal) Van Thanh on Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh Street, which has subsided unevenly.
And while there are several high-rise office and condominium towers under construction, there are many more planned that could be constructed but are currently held up by the City's lack of vision for its own development. Those that are under construction now were approved for planning years ago, and it takes a couple years after project planning approval to arrange financing, complete design documents and secure construction approvals.
Việt Nam's Construction Law requires city governments to be clear with its citizens what the master plan is for their neighborhoods. But TPHCM has not been able to complete its master plan for the downtown areas of District 1 and portions of Districts 3 and 4. Therefore developers find it very difficult to obtain information from the City about parameters for development, and those submitting plans for large projects are finding the City unable to approve them until the City can complete its zoning vision for downtown.
Does the City want to maintain the urban environment downtown at somewhat the same heights and density of development? Or does it want to build a vibrant dense international commercial center to rival Hong Kong and Shanghai? Or does it really want to shift the commercial center of TPHCM across the river to Thủ Thiêm in District 2? If it does, there are several years of infrastructure to complete before that can happen. Until the City can answer these questions and agree on its vision for development, development will slow to a snail's pace regardless of the increasing pent-up demand for office space and apartments as new investors crowd into TPHCM.
Maybe this delay to agree on its vision will be a good thing for the people of TPHCM in the long run. But Việt Nam needs growth in investment, and it can only be delayed so long until investment goes elsewhere. Assuming the City comes to grips with its development over the next year or two, and improves its leadership to equal the energetic and visionary leadership currently provided by the national leaders, then the people of TPHCM can achieve their dreams similar to the dream described by Jon.
I had the good fortune to visit Shanghai and Beijing in the early 90s on business trips, and I would place TPHCM at about the level of development of those two cities in those days. Since then, those cities, as well as most cities in China, have made unbelievable progress in development. Shanghai built an extensive subway system, a complete freeway system, a new international airport, and 500 high-rise buildings in ten years time. So the people of TPHCM can reach their vision for 2020 if they develop a similar will to do so.
The question is: What kind of living and working environment will result alongside the freeways and subways that will be built? I personally hope that the City will not decide to demolish whole areas of the City in preparation for development. That is what both Beijing and Shanghai have done, and it is the Chinese model for development, which follows an old discredited American urban-renewal model. And Chinese cities have often become the worse for their people with commercial areas bleak and empty at night and the people crammed into soulless monotonous housing towers away from the center of the city.
I hope that the people of TPHCM will decide to increase the city's urbanity by letting development proceed on individual lots all around the city in accordance with morket forces. That seems to be current model, and it retains city life around the clock in neighborhoods mixed with housing, shops, and commercial offices. There are those that say this environment is messy and chaotic, and it will be for a time. But in the long term, all areas of mixed neighborhoods develop and improve over time as market forces drive up values and allow improvements by the people themselves.