Utopia via Neglect: Future Hanoi

The Ecotopia 2121 Project details the futures of 100 cities across the globe as though they've somehow overcome all environmental challenges to become super-ecofriendly. This week, we highlight the future of Hanoi.


For more than 4000 years Hanoi was built, then lost, and then built again as a series of citadels amongst a network of waterways and lakes. These citadels were taken and retaken by a long line of successive kingdoms and dynasties, both Vietnamese and Chinese. The first citadel site still exists, in a spot called Ca Loa, rising slightly above the north-east end of the sprawling city of six million.

The waterways and lakes of Hanoi today are detestable: garbage-ridden, unsanitary and sometimes toxic. They serve as major health-hazards via chemical pollution and biological disease. As the Vietnam government seeks large-scale foreign investment to create industry all throughout the city, the waterway situation is only getting worse. Whilst the government celebrates the growth of their capital, many Hanoi people persist with little access to either clean water or to a sewerage system.

For this reason, in the future, many poorer urban communities, including the vast numbers who have migrated to the city from the countryside, become completely disenchanted with the communist government, declaring openly they never get anything from the new industrial developments: no jobs, no schools, no hospitals, and no healthcare. Surely, if there’s one thing that a communist government should provide is universal healthcare and free education, but Hanoi’s poor do not receive even that. They just have to take care of themselves as best they can.

Then, in 2019 and 2020, huge floods sweep through the city drowning many people, mostly children, the sick, and the aged, and devastating entire neighborhoods. The response of the government is not to do anything much to help the flood victims but instead to construct a grand new federal center on Co Loa, so that important officials don’t get wet the next time that the city floods.

Hanoi 2121

Hanoi 2121 by Alan Marshall & Nanthawan Kaenkaew


You might think that by this time, the poor people have had enough—that they would march upon the Co Loa and demand that hospitals and schools and power stations should be built on the citadel, not government offices. But no, they prefer to be neglected. For they know neglect brings relief from paying taxes, they know neglect brings relief from compulsory military service, and their communities can then invest all their resources into making a flood-tolerant cityscape that mimics the watery agriculture of their hinterland. Here, in Hanoi 2121, the government and the poor people live in blissful disunion with each other.


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