With Laos being one of the primary countries set on a fast track towards urbanization, experts have raised concerns over the common challenges that cities in the Mekong River region are facing.
The experts on urban design and planning from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam believe that these cities are witnessing their heritage vanish as they evolve too quickly, leaving residents reeling in the wake of their disappearing culture. Some argue that locals in the region don’t have the opportunity to set their own path for urban development.
At a forum titled, “Cities in Transition in South East Asia, New Challenges for Urban Development” held in Bangkok, representatives from the four countries discussed urbanization trends in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City. It was noted that though each city had its own method of dealing with its problems, the issues that these cities struggle with are very similar.
One of the primary concerns raised was the rapid urbanization that has led to the authorities and business sector harming the city’s deep-rooted character.
Public Works and Transport Deputy Minister Bounleuam Sisoulath reported to the forum that this problem had already occurred in the World Heritage City of Luang Prabang. The minister explained that the city is becoming increasingly famous among tourists, which has boosted the local economy but has also had negative side effects for the traditional livelihoods of its citizens.
“As the city experiences a boom in the tourism industry, there are many new hotels and entertainment places for the tourists. The local people are alienated in their hometown and many choose to leave,” Minister Bounleuam stated. “Right now, both NGOs and the authorities are trying to preserve the cultural identity of the city and focus on helping the local communities to survive,” he added,
A geographer and urban planner contributed a similar story from Vietnam, sharing that Ho Chi Minh City’s rapid growth had already generated conflict between its local people and authorities over claims of unfair land expropriation, as the city needed more space to expand.
However, a former dean of Chulalongkorn University debated that cities have a life of their own and will naturally adapt over time. This raised the topic of how the past could coexist in harmony with the present.
Source: The Nation