THE HO CHI MINH CITY INNOVATION DISTRICTS
Like many Asian cities, Ho Chi Minh is in a growth spurt. Unlike many of its peers, however, the City is thinking strategically about its future as a global center of innovation. While its Southeast Asian rivals traditionally have focused on one primary sector to drive economic expansion, Ho Chi Minh is diversifying by intentionally coupling its nascent universities with local and multinational companies in the design and manufacturing sectors. Another advantage – rather than identifying only once part of the city for a new innovation district, it has identified six “innovation hotspots” that are sector-specific. This strategy of co-locating existing investment and educational resources with new economic engines that connect research, entrepreneurship, academia, industry, and the local community illustrates why the city believes that innovation should happen everywhere and benefit everyone. The six hotspots include:
1. The Thu Thiem FinTech Hub, designed to host a critical mass of financial services companies. The site benefits from its proximity to the urban core of Ho Chi Minh City and frontage along the Saigon River. Existing transit connections integrate with the broader transportation network, allowing for the flow of ideas and capital.
2. The Rach Chiec Sports and Wellness Hub, building upon previous investments to create new a sports district and focuses on the increasing popularity of the health and wellness industry in Southeast Asia. Rach Chiec emphasizes Ho Chi Minh City’s potential as an international destination for innovation in sports medicine, biosciences, sports-related products, and related industries with the goal of improving the human condition.
3. The Saigon Hi-Tech Park and Automated Manufacturing Hub, accommodating multinational high-tech companies and educational institutions. Building on its existing manufacturing capacity, this part of the city will promote the future of innovative production and design. Connections to adjacent existing and proposed research entities further strengthen the already vigorous manufacturing sector with inventive methods and products.
4. The Vietnam National University IT & EduTech Hub, providing a cluster of educational institutions near the existing Vietnam National University campus that support the school’s academic mission while spurring economic growth. Additional development sites for research, study, and collaboration bridge the gap between knowledge and production and support the teaching of new skills and methods.
5. The Tam Da EcoTech, leveraging the natural site conditions alongside the Saigon River to promote an urban agriculture hub that can support culinary development, food processing, and agro-tech industries. The most ecologically sensitive district, development is restricted to higher ground, allowing for the protection of environmentally sensitive and flood-prone areas.
6. The Truong Tho Future Hub, using the redevelopment of an obsolete riverfront port as an ideal site for initial investment. The working port is transformed into a new neighborhood that serves as a model for integrating advanced technologies into all forms of daily life. Resilient and responsive infrastructure, new forms of mobility and communication, adaptive building technology, and a data-infused public realm with a focus on innovation in arts and entertainment are hallmarks of the district.
Ensuring that the Innovation Districts are built with resiliency from climate threats was a primary consideration. Southern Vietnam is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Historically, the initial French settlement in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) was been built upon naturally higher ground. As the city grew, these were the first land areas to experience urban growth and economic success. The study area for the innovation districts, however, has seen relatively slow growth, leading to sever inequity between the city’s neighborhoods. While residents on higher ground benefitted from real estate expansion, those living in low-lying areas were relegated to agriculture or other industries with lower economic benefit. The six innovation hotspots are strategically located in areas of the city that have traditionally marginalized communities to create new opportunities where none have historically existed.
This income inequality related to existing environmental conditions reveals much about the ecological and risk context of the region. Flood risk is expected to increase as today’s extreme flood events become more regular and threaten to encompass much of the city. While new developments are being proposed with flood mitigation strategies, it is not feasible to implement large-scale land reclamation that could have detrimental effects to both the ecology and shift flood risk elsewhere. The master plan approach mitigates flood risk through a variety of strategies including: 1) Capitalizing on major industrial relocations and investments; 2) Leveraging the existing land banks already located on higher ground; 3) Building upon recent transportation investments; and 4) Establishing policies that leverage the value of urban land while preserving the absorption capacity of existing landscapes.
The master plan of the Ho Chi Minh City Innovation Districts is currently being codified into the citywide master plan. In addition to the design, strategies relating to governance, policy, and development mechanisms are being developed in collaboration with a variety of government bureaus, investors, university administration, and community groups. The potential of Ho Chi Minh City lies on its long history of innovation and inclusivity, its young and creative work force, and its growth-supportive urban structure. The goal of the Innovation Districts is to cultivate these unique strengths while planning for the region’s long-term adaptability and resiliency.
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