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Sustainable urban development in the Southwestern region: Objectives, problems and solutions

(LLCT) - Sustainable urban development is a global trend and an urgent requirement in Vietnam today. In recent years, sustainable urban development in the Southwest has received the attention of the Party and the State and has achieved certain results. However, there are still many shortcomings, requiring stronger, more robust and synchronous measures in the establishment and application of sustainable urban development criteria to the realization of programs, policies of the Party and State in sustainable urban development in the Southwestern region.

Keywords: sustainable urban development, Southwestern region.

1. Sustainable urban development

There are many different theories and perspectives on urban development: a city that lives well, a global city, a sustainable city, a smart city... and many different ways of evaluation. In spite of many differences, in general, when it comes to urban development, it is about the harmonious development of economic, environmental and social factors in a sustainable way with the ultimate goal of life. Urban residents must be better off, living more comfortably and happily.

Sustainable urban development is based on the principle of integrating: Economy, society, ecological environment, infrastructure, space, and management to find common areas / common voice to meet the requirements of fairness, good living and sustainability. The relation among the criteria of sustainable urban development is a close and organic unity. The missing of one of the criteria groups as well as the criteria in each group of criteria can lead to the unhealthy development of a city, and sustainable urban development is definitely out of reach(1).

All of these criteria are the basis of reference for Vietnam to propose an appropriate sustainable urban development philosophy. These are: 1) People being placed at the center of development; 2) Balance between economic development goals and natural environment; 3) Balance between economic and social growth; 4) Harmonious development between people with technology - engineering; 5) Ensuring the multicultural development and the ethical and spiritual life of different groups of people; 6) Ensuring social security, peace, order and stability; 7) Ensuring the democratic participation of the people in the urban development process; 8) Social justice in economic life; 9) Ensuring the harmony between generations; 10) Rational spatial development; 11) Balanced rural-urban development.

2. The goal of sustainable urban development in the Southwestern region

According to the General Statistics Office of Vietnam in 2019, the Mekong Delta has a total area of 40,548.2km², with a population of 21.49 million people. The Mekong River Delta accounts for only 13% of the country’s area, but nearly 18% of the country’s population. Of which, the proportion of urban population is about 25.5%, just higher than that of the Midlands and Northern Mountains (18.5%)(2). Currently, the entire southwestern region has more than 160 urban centers located along the main river systems, so the risk of being affected by climate change is very high. The region has the following characteristics: 1) being the youngest region in the country; 2) having a fairly rapid growth rate, just behind in the Southeast; 3) having mass and widespread development; 4) being endowed with abundant natural resources with commercial development; 5) river urban nature, making full use of the system of rivers, canals, and sea routes; 6) being an urban area of the delta eco-region with the dominant agricultural economic type; 7) having a fairly clear economic function right from its inception; 8) having the tendency of losing its advantages, especially in terms of economic urban functions(3).

In order to promote the socio-economic development of the Southwest in general and urban areas in the region in particular in a sustainable direction, the Communist Party of Vietnam issued resolutions relating to the region, such as: Resolution 21-NQ/TW dated January 20, 2003 on the directions, tasks and solutions for socio-economic development, security and defense assurance in the Mekong Delta region in the 2001-2010 period; Resolution No. 45-NQ/TW dated February 17, 2005 on Construction and development of Can Tho city in the period of national industrialization and modernization. In order to realize the Party’s Resolution, the Government and the Prime Minister issued many decisions and resolutions such as Decision No. 01/1998/QD-TTg dated January 5, 1998 on approving the master plan of socio-economic development of the Mekong River delta to 2010 which identifies important measures: i) investment attraction, capital mobilization, human resource development, research and application of science, technology and environment, markets expansion to serve production and people’s livelihood must be proposed by ministries and related sectors to the Government to approve policies and solutions to achieve socio-economic goals; ii) the building of technical infrastructure, implementing concentrated investment to achieve practical efficiency, creating a driving force for development for the region is prioritized; and iii) high economic incentive policies for industries are implemented, creating export oriented and competitive products(4). Subsequently, the Prime Minister issued Decision No. 492/2009/QD-TTg dated April 16, 2009 approving the project to establish key economic regions in the Mekong Delta, which clearly states that: i) making the fullest use of potentials and advantages of each locality and the entire key economic region, on the basis of efficient and comprehensive development of deltas, coastal areas and marine economy, in a connection with other localities in the Mekong Delta and cooperating with other localities in the country; ii) proactively integrating deeply, accelerating the expansion of economic trade with other countries in the region and internationally, improving the quality of growth; iii) linking economic development with social development, poverty reduction, job creation, and gradually reducing the disparities in social development between regions and between ethnic groups; iv) developing the economy combined with ecological environmental protection, sustainable development; and v) combining socio-economic development with strengthening and consolidating security - defense, maintaining stable political security and social order and safety(5).

In the Prime Minister’s Decision No. 1581/QD-TTg, 10 goals for sustainable development in the Mekong Delta were established: 1) promoting the role, position and potential of the region under the multi-polar model combining urban economic corridors with Can Tho city as a nuclear city and the center of the region; 2) developing the spatial structure of the whole region with economic corridors of Tien River, Hau River, National Highway 1A, Ho Chi Minh Road, cluster of central urban centers and small urban centers based on rural, industrial and tourist areas; 3) developing new urban centers with characteristics and functions and services that develop tourism, trade and industry associated with each region’s characteristics; 4) building an urban system in the entire region, linking and supporting central urban regions with urban economic corridors; 5) developing high-tech agricultural regions, specialized industry; forming economic corridors for industry and services, creating a driving force for provinces in the region to develop rapidly and sustainably; 6) developing national and international tourist regions, tourist centers in association with cultural features, urban centers and natural landscapes; 7) developing the balance and harmony between urban and rural areas; 8) forming a diversified and flexible social infrastructure system on the basis of a technical infrastructure system linking residential and urban systems across the region, strictly controlling the environment, and having focal points for waste treatment, cemeteries, clean water sources, energy, combining regional flood control with solutions to minimize the unusual changes of natural impacts on coastal and riverside urban centers; 9) forming strategic programs and projects that can spread and promote regional development; 10) developing an institutional framework including effective models of spatial development management and control, and regional landscape architecture(6).

In 2012, the Prime Minister issued Decision No. 939/QD-TTg dated July 19, 2012 approving the master plan on socio-economic development of the Mekong Delta up to 2020. The main objectives of this plan are: building and developing the Mekong River Delta region into a key region for agricultural commodity and products and fisheries of the whole country with a high and sustainable economic growth rate; strongly developing the marine economy and developing cultural and social domains, so as to catch up with the national level; developing this area as a bridge to proactively integrate, trade and cooperate with other countries in the region; ensuring firmly political security, national defense and social order and safety(7).

In order to fulfill the goals of sustainable development, in 2014, the Prime Minister promulgated Decision No.245/QD-TTg dated February 12, 2014 approving the master plan on socio-economic development in the economic region, key economic sectors in the Mekong River Delta to 2020, with a vision towards 2030. In which, the development points of view are: i) maximizing potentials and advantages, promoting economic restructuring, transforming the growth model towards in-depth development associated with national food security; ii) focusing investment in a number of areas where the region has a competitive advantage such as production and processing of high quality agricultural and aquatic products, ecotourism, marine tourism and cultural tourism, sea and island festivals, services and economy; iii) synchronously developing the system of urban centers, residential areas, technical and social infrastructure systems in an eco-friendly way; iv) closely combining economic development with the development of the fields of society, education - training, health, culture, sports and fitness in association with social progress and equity; promoting hunger eradication and poverty reduction, reducing social development disparities between regions and between ethnic groups; v) focusing on training and developing human resources, especially high-quality human resources to meet market demands, linking human resource development with science and technology development and application; vi) implementing the sustainable development, linking socio-economic development with economical use of natural resources and protection of ecological environment; proactively preventing and responding to climate change and sea level rise; and vii) closely combining socio-economic development with ensuring national defense and security insurance, maintaining political stability and social order and safety(8).

On November 17, 2017, the Government issued Resolution 120/NQ-CP on sustainable development of the Mekong Delta in response to climate change. In which, the Vision towards 2100 was affirmed: The Mekong River Delta develops in a sustainable, safe and prosperous manner, on the basis of suitable development of high-quality commodity agriculture, combined with services, ecotourism, industry, with an emphasis on industry processing, improving the value and competitiveness of agricultural products; the infrastructure system is planned and developed synchronously and modernly in the direction of proactive, intelligent, climate change adaptation, ensuring safety prior to natural disasters; natural resources are used appropriately; biodiversity and historical cultural traditions are maintained and embellished, the people’s material and spiritual lives are enhanced. At the same time, the Resolution also emphasizes: proactively responding to climate change, rationally using natural resources in renovating, upgrading and developing urban areas; reviewing, supplementing and perfecting the system of legal documents, planning and managing investment in urban development in the context of increased risks from climate change; raising awareness, enhancing coordination among ministries, branches and localities in managing and managing urban development in response to climate change(9).

3. Posing problems and solutions

Due to being in the first stage of approaching the roadmap for sustainable urban development, urban areas in the southwestern region with water characteristics of the Mekong Delta are encountering the following issues:

Firstly, the relationship between land use planning and construction planning, urban planning, and planning sectors is not clear. The quality of urban planning is not high, the management and implementation of the planning is not good, there are still many shortcomings; planning process and contents have not been promptly reformed in the direction of integrating the contents of sustainable development, adapting to climate change and green growth; a synchronous foundation for socio-economic infrastructure in order to attract investment of the entire society to promptly adapt to the industrial revolution 4.0 has not been created; urban planning and management work still lacks synchronization in the stages of capital, land fund, time, and priority, etc..

Secondly, urban infrastructure is not synchronous; there is a lack of modern and sustainable cities. Most of the towns in the Southwest region are expanded or upgraded from an existing town. Many cities scales are not big enough to become a lever to boost the region’s socio-economic development. The essential social services on housing, health, education, electricity and water are still limited; Inundation, mudslide, waste water, environmental pollution, illegal construction, encroachment on public land, and loss of social order, etc.. tend to increase.

Thirdly, the situation of wasting land in urban areas has not been overcome; construction investment efficiency is still low, affecting sustainable development and urban appearance in the Southwestern region. The resources for urban development are still spreading and in short supply. The investment capital demand for urban technical infrastructure is huge, the socialization and mobilization of resources in society are still limited. The system of green trees in parks and water surfaces in many urban areas has not been paid attention.

Fourthly, urban management in the Southwest has not kept up with reality and has not yet met the trend of sustainable urban development. There is a shortage of human resources for urban management; urban management at each time, each place is limited due to many different reasons. The management of urban databases in the southwestern region is still limited, urban data sources are scattered in many different sectors such as: construction, communications - transport, natural resources - environment, statistics, and so on. Therefore, the criteria, statistics indicators and assessment of urban development of sectors and localities are various, making it difficult to standardize for common use on a digital platform. Meanwhile, there are no specific legal documents on data collection for urban areas; many branches and fields lack or have no specialized staff to be in charge of creating and building the urban database systems.

Fifthly, urban areas in the Southwestern region are facing climate change issues. That climate changes and sea level rises are seriously threatening urban sustainable development in the Southwest. Meanwhile, spontaneous development of residential and urban areas is still taking place, reducing the cultural - ecological environment landscape of urban areas in the Southwestern region.

Sixthly, urban development has not clearly shown the local identity and climatic characteristics in the Southwestern region. In addition, the urbanization in the Southwest region today has not created many new jobs for agricultural workers. The quality of human resources is still limited; the majority of employees has not kept up with the socio-economic development speed of the Southwestern region and has not met the requirements of employers, especially enterprises using technology - modern techniques.

In order to successfully realize the goal of sustainable urban development in the Southwestern region, it is necessary to consider and implement synchronously the following solutions:

Firstly, it is urgent to build mechanisms and policies to attract investment for sustainable urban development; to formulate policies to encourage socialization in all fields in order to mobilize and encourage all domestic and foreign resources to participate in sustainable urban development.

Secondly, the leadership role of Party committees and authorities at all levels should be enhanced in the implementation of projects, programs and plans for sustainable urban construction. Party committees, authorities, the Fatherland Front and socio-political unions at all levels need to uphold the sense of responsibility in communication and education work, thoroughly grasp each organization, agency, unit, officer, Party members and the people about the Party’s views and guidelines, the State’s policies and laws on sustainable urban development, creating consensus and agreement on views and implementation contents.

Thirdly, in order to promote sustainable urban development in the Southwestern region, urban construction planning must have high practical values; regulations and legal institutions must be appropriate to the socio-economic development of each locality. Construction planning, urban planning and urban development management should be prioritized and long term visions need raising. The plan should be placed in a comprehensive coordination system with many relevant branches and localities to ensure the feasibility.

Fourthly, in the process of sustainable urban development in the Southwestern region, the construction of urban government is the core element to ensure effective urban management. In particular, it is necessary to strengthen inspection, examination and strict handling of law violations in urban management, prevention of environmental pollution degradation, strengthening land management, urban construction management.

Fifthly, it is essential to promote the work of information dissemination, education and law to raise awareness of the community about sustainable urban development; to enhance education of a new civilized lifestyle and cultural family for urban residents; rationally developing population, improving community health; to encourage people to use clean fuels for daily life instead of polluting fuels, creating a habit of prioritizing the use of public transport.

Sixthly, it is necessary to pay attention to investment in modern and synchronous urban infrastructure taking into account climate change factors; linking economic development with social development, education and training, health, tourism, culture, and building a new countryside, gradually narrowing the gap between urban and rural areas.

Seventhly, it is advisable to strengthen the work of ensuring political security, urban social order and safety; to step up crime prevention and combat, resolutely destroying gangs, criminal groups, hi-tech crimes, organized crimes, drug crimes, the environment, economic crimes, etc at the same time, increasing investment in the development of public transport, applying smart traffic management techniques with electronic functions, telecommunications, transmission, control of roads and means of transport.

Eighthly, the application of information technology need to be promoted at all levels, organizations in urban areas; investment in the construction of the urban information infrastructure system should be increased and developed towards a modern, safe, standardized, synchronous and interconnected direction, ensuring accessibility and use for agencies, organizations and businesses, industry and people.



(1) Le Hong Ke: Sustainable National Urban Development, 2016, www.hids.hochiminhcity.gov.vn.

(2) General Statistics Office of Vietnam: Socio-economic situation in 2019, https://www.gso.gov.vn.

(3) Tran Ngoc Them et.al.: Vietnamese culture in the Southwestern region, Ho Chi Minh City Culture and Arts Publishing House, 2014.

(4) Prime Minister: Decision No. 01/1998/QD-TTg dated January 5, 1998 approving the master plan on socio-economic development of the Mekong Delta up to 2010.

(5) Prime Minister: Decision No. 492/2009/QD-TTg dated April 16, 2009 approving the Scheme on the establishment of a key economic region in the Mekong River Delta.

(6) Prime Minister: Decision No. 1581/2009/QD-TTg dated October 9, 2009 approving the plan on construction of the Mekong Delta up to 2020 and vision to 2050.

(7) Prime Minister: Decision No. 939/QD-TTg of the Prime Minister approving the Master Plan for the development of the Mekong Delta.

(8) Prime Minister: Decision No. 245/QD-TT of the Prime Minister approving the master plan for development of key economic regions in the Mekong Delta.


(9) Government of Vietnam: Resolution No. 120/NQ-CP dated November 17, 2017 on sustainable development of the Mekong Delta in response to climate change.

Assoc.Prof., Dr. Pham Minh Anh

Dr. Do Van Quan

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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