Urban planning and design are among the most effective tools in dealing with climate change, as they address both mitigation and adaptation for long time horizon. Mitigation occurs on a global scale, and aims to reduce carbon emissions linked to global warming. Adaptation, however, aims at building resilience, and can come in diverse forms and combinations.
Today, Vietnam faces challenges with implementing sustainability in city planning. These stem from natural disasters, environmental pollution, and other issues pertaining to transportation systems and the capacity of urban plans. To become successfully implemented, urban development plans need to take these factors into consideration.
Vietnam’s environmental situation
Due to its geographical position, Vietnam is susceptible to natural disasters like typhoons, floods, droughts, seawater intrusion, landslides, forest fires and earthquakes. These climate-induced disasters are becoming more common, taking an increasing toll on human life, assets, livelihoods, and valuable ecological systems.
Climate change is likely to increase the frequency and intensity of the hydrometeorological disasters that Vietnam faces. In 2007, an assessment by the World Bank listed Vietnam as one of five countries in the world most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
This poses a significant threat to the country, not only because of the high concentration of people in urban areas but also because cities are a critical element of Vietnam’s economic growth and poverty reduction strategy. Even at today’s relatively low level of urbanisation (30%, according to the 2009 census), Vietnam’s cities are major GDP contributors (70%, according to a 2006 World Bank study). According to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN–HABITAT), 77% of population growth from 2000 to 2009 occurred in cities, with approximately 1 million people added to urban areas each year. Urbanet predicts that Vietnam’s urban population will surpass its rural population by 2040 (https://www.urbanet.info/vietnam-urban-development-infographics/).
How urban development can combat climate change
As cities continue to grow in population and infrastructure, they inevitably face challenges pertaining to housing, governance, urban mobility, and the impacts of climate change. In particular, the increasingly variable trend of climatic conditions and its effects is adding pressure and uncertainty to urban areas.
Urban development efforts that prioritise sustainable, climate resilient measures will be able to provide a safe and healthy environment for the city’s economic development and enhance the resilience of residents. While urban resilience aims to reduce risks and damages from disasters and enhance the ability to quickly recover, climate adaptation and resilience measures have not always been actively incorporated into urban planning .
Without prioritising urban resilience, Vietnam would risk losing its developmental gains to avoidable disasters.
MORROW’s approach to sustainable infrastructure
Seeking harmony with the natural environment:
New infrastructure developments should protect ecologically sensitive areas and restore damaged ecological zones. This can be achieved by planning infrastructure and buildings in less biodiverse areas, rather than infringing on them. However, this does not mean that cities should sacrifice economic development for the environmental good. A well-planned and preserved natural environment may offer new opportunities, such as growth in the eco-tourism sector.
From an urban planning perspective, sustainable infrastructure is about mediating a harmonious relationship between urban dynamics and the natural environment. By recognising that the natural environment can provide socio-economic benefits, cities can cultivate a mutually beneficial relationship with nature and ensure a sustainable future for all.
Plan for climate-change-induced risks:
A key strategy in the early planning stages is to carefully map out developable land away from flood-prone areas. By doing so, cities can select the most suitable sites for development, while preventing the destruction of biodiversity. This saves costs associated with mitigating climate change impacts such as implementing flood prevention systems. Additionally, preserving green spaces also helps reduce urban heat island effects.
On the climate change adaptation front, urban planning and infrastructure engineering must work together to create innovative adaptation infrastructure projects. These projects should address multiple objectives in addressing climate change and optimising the utilisation of land-and sea-spaces.
For example, near-shore floating buildings that are adaptive to rising sea-levels can be deployed along coastal areas of highly dense cities. These structures can serve as floating hotels, F&B establishments, aquaponic farms to optimise the benefits of circular economy principles and improve food security, or data centres that harness seawater cooling to reduce energy consumption. Such floating structures require support from on-shore infrastructures like utilities supplies and accessibility, which presents an opportunity for incorporating enhanced coastal protection measures against rising sea levels through the construction of new roads.
The relationship between the city and natural disasters should not be reduced to hazard management. A paradigm shift from control to climate adaptation could lead to a future where urbanites live safely and in the benefit of their natural environment. Urban planning plays an indispensable role in realising this paradigm shift, and the next challenge is to take action.