Strengthening social cohesion, improving the living conditions of its inhabitants, and developing a true urban conviviality earned Ha Noi the distinction of being named a City of Peace by UNESCO. A City of Peace, a city of intercultural dialogue, Ha Noi has lived up to its title by constituting a home of long-lasting peace for all its residents and visitors. Whether Hanoians, Vietnamese migrating from various provinces, or foreigners, everyone enjoys the security, beauty, liveliness, and heritage of this great city.
Rich in culture, Ha Noi is unique, colourful, busy, and bustling – a busy city that you miss when you go elsewhere. It is a city with the capacity to blend old and new, tradition and modernity. Tucked between sky scrapers and business developments are women selling flowers on their bicycles and street-side restaurants capturing both those in a hurry and those who are just enjoying their day, to take pleasure in a steaming bowl of phở, that culinary delight that energizes and excites the senses.
Ha Noi has the ability to generate a sense of identity and belonging and permanently reminds us of its long history of governance and intense and accelerated social, economic, and political development. It now faces new challenges in order to ensure that all its residents can enjoy a sufficient level of wealth and happiness and a fulfilling intellectual and productive life while at the same time striving for the conservation of its cultural heritage – which is its unique trademark – to be preserved and shared with generations to come. Supporting the safeguarding of cultural heritage as a treasure of Hanoians, and of Vietnamese in general, is a priority for the nation and for UNESCO.
Viet Nam recognizes that cultural heritage provides a sense of identity and belonging, linking our past, through the present, with our future. Today, cultural heritage is a priority investment domain, particularly in countries like Viet Nam, whose rich history provides advantages for economic investment, tourism, and sustainable development, especially in terms of enhancing and benefitting the livelihoods of local communities who preserve these sacred spaces as an integral part of their identities.
Ha Noi is home to numerous important heritage assets. Many visitors come to Ha Noi to visit the Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long – Ha Noi, a World Heritage Site. Ha Noi is also home to two elements of intangible cultural heritage: Ca trù singing, inscribed on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, and the Gióng festival of Phù Ðông and Sóc temples, inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
In addition to tangible and intangible heritage inscribed with UNESCO, Ha Noi is also famous for its Temple of Literature, Hoan Kiem Lake, the Long Bien Bridge, and the Old Quarter: four locations that cannot be missed if you are a Hanoian or a tourist who wishes to experience the city’s true character.
As a city of over one thousand years of age, Ha Noi has a lot to offer its visitors – unique architectural landscape, beautiful lakes, rich cultural heritage and many craft and traditional villages located less than an hour away from the city centre.
However, Ha Noi is also a city with over five million inhabitants, with increasing number of cars and motorbikes, where traffic jams have become common and increasing pollution has begun to have its effects on city dwellers. Tourism planning and development needs to be considered as a cross-cutting issue when discussing the city’s growth. A comprehensive approach needs to be taken. When dealing with tourism we need to take into account health services, transportation, safe sidewalks, parks, communication and interpretation services, and other basic infrastructure requirements.
A priority challenge for Ha Noi is the sustainable balance between development and the heritage of the city, between the pressures of modernization and the needs of its residents, between a “home” to its people and the experience of millions of visitors who come to the city every year. Economic development modes and conservation management planning can be integrated to evolve into a new model wherein heritage becomes the core of the city’s development process instead of being a simple addition. Ha Noi should exploit much more the values of its culture and heritage to enhance the quality of the visitor’s experience.
The city should look toward linking more closely the tourist and the “Hanoians”. Having an opportunity to sit for tea with locals and learn about their life, their beliefs and stories can be an exciting way to enrich a tourist’s experience. It provides a human face to the city and a story the tourist can share back home. We need to keep in mind that heritage is not only represented in monuments. Heritage can be thought of as a beautiful and meaningful inheritance from your ancestors or simply the food you eat, your history, costumes, music, and architecture. Tourists should enjoy all these forms of heritage and the people of Ha Noi should be more aware of their value.
Emphasis should be made on fostering participatory tourism development. We know that the residents of the city are affected by tourism as it generates changes in their lives, some positive, others negative. Therefore, incorporating the local inhabitants and communities into the tourism planning and evaluation process is essential. This is not an easy task as participating citizens will put forth a diversity of opinions possibly making the process longer and more complex. But, if well managed, with adequate methodology and empathy for new ideas, this will facilitate the implementation of new plans.
A key principle in preserving cultural heritage is encouraging stakeholder participation, especially the private sector. Increasing more effective opportunities for public-private investment in urban heritage areas is an essential aspect involved in upgrading long-term preservation. Likewise, relevant stakeholders should be encouraged to participate in conservation efforts through tax policies and economic incentives. Examples such as a revolving fund set up in some countries as a pool of capital created for heritage protection can help maintain and restore privately-owned historic assets.
In addition to traditional aspects of the local culture that need to be preserved, we also need to ensure that creativity, originality, and uniqueness are embedded in every tourism service and product that we offer. The city must open up more recreational spaces and provide the means for enjoying them to the fullest, including more areas for young people to practice sports and more streets with nice sidewalk cafes that allow the tourist to observe the bustling movement of the city and its people. We should reinforce its citizens’ responsibilities to keep it cleaner and to control extreme noise pollution for a healthier life.
It is important to equip and develop cities and heritage sites by reinvesting part of the revenue produced from tourism in conservation efforts, by encouraging all those involved in the sector to adopt quality measures, and by promoting the local population to become true actors in the tourism chain. Heritage education in schools needs to be ensured so that future generations will learn to value heritage and culture and will better understand the role of tourism in the city’s sustainable development.
In the context of globalization, many cities around the globe share the same challenges as Ha Noi in balancing the preservation of cultural heritage with urban development. Experience so far has shown that there is no single solution or model, only basic principles, but also that such work requires the concerted efforts of all stakeholders involved.
Solutions to address irreversible changes in the face of rapid urban development require the valorization of each element of heritage, transmission of its values and empowerment of future generations to be the driving force for its continued preservation.
Sixty years have passed since the city was returned to the Vietnamese people after the signing of the agreements in Geneva. Sixty years that have sculpted a city open to friends worldwide, a city characterized by international integration and increased cooperation and development.
Sixty years have passed since the lyrics of a beautiful triumphant song, “Returning to Ha Noi”, were sung:
“Five city gates welcome the return of soldiers,
As a blooming flower with five scarlet petals,
…What beloved streets of Hanoi!”