Hanoi has a chance to impress the world. It is an infant in the traditional development trajectory and because of this, it has the opportunity to bypass the problems more developed countries are currently facing. But to defy the status quo and go against the grid is to challenge power and desire.
Take for example transportation. No more than a couple decades ago the streets of Hanoi would’ve been filled with bicycles. Businessmen to vendors to students would be exercising, using fewer natural resources, and creating no smog. Nowadays motorbikes pack the concrete using more resources and creating more smog. But take another look at the streets and you’ll find a few vehicles trying to find their way through traffic. For people who can afford it, the luxury of having their own space away from the smog where they can listen to their music and turn on the air conditioning is just too mesmerizing.
As the standard of living rises drastically in Hanoi it is inevitable the mode of transportation will change with it. But if Hanoi’s government acts proactively around the issue of transportation, Hanoi could save itself from the dire circumstances that many more developed countries possess: traffic, dependence on cars, smog, need to exercise, usage of precious natural resources, etc. Hanoi’s government still has time to create a city where cars are not absolutely necessary and to create incentives for people to use more energy-efficient modes of transportation.
Of course this may be difficult as it is understandable many people in Hanoi would prefer to drive cars. It is a symbol of wealth and prosperity and simply more comfortable than a motorbike, subway, or bus. It would create frustration if the government set up barriers to car transportation after Hanoi has come so far. And who am I (a product of American individualism who loves driving cars) to tell a developing country to not take the path that I so enjoyably take advantage of? Development is complicated.
Transportation is just one example of where Hanoi’s government can take charge to avoid the consequences of USA’s development and so many other countries. We often see development to be a line, from step one to step two and so on. But rather development is an intertwining circle. Hanoi is young enough that it can be different and not develop via the status quo in order to bypass many problems those very status quo countries experience today.