Hanoi, City of the Future

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Sexual Intelligence continues reporting live from 3 weeks in Vietnam.

Hanoi is a perfect example of a new kind of Third World city.

The country is growing rapidly, and the Vietnamese government wants to establish manufacturing and export facilities just about everywhere it can. So it’s taking over the rice fields in the outskirts of Hanoi, giving people a one-time housing stipend (which, being country-folk, they usually blow, but that’s another story), and paving the rice fields—the better to build new factories, houses, the power grid they need, and the roads to get to them.

But there’s only so much “outskirts” near the city, and so the government is taking land that’s many miles and many, many hours outside Hanoi and building new towns from the ground up: brand-new luxury apartments, chi-chi stores, and the smaller commercial merchants needed to support them. We might call this the “suburbs,” but the development process here is very different, dramatically telescoped in time. What took 100 years to shape say, the New York or Boston metropolis is taking less than a single generation here.

It’s a self-perpetuating process: the countryside is cleared or paved, people are thrown off their land, they move to the big cities which lack the infrastructure to handle their basic needs, and more established people move outside the city. This creates pressure for more paving of agricultural or forested land, and the cycle continues.

That sweat suit or scarf that’s “Made in Vietnam” is way, way more complicated than it looks.

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