Ho Chi Minh Innovation District: “The Future Hub” Living Lab

(An interview by The Manager.vn)

With long-term enthusiasm for the city and three months of competition to show, the Sasaki – enCity team developed a planning proposal based on the idea of ​​​​building a new highly interactive and innovative district at the east of Ho Chi Minh City (now known as Thu Duc City). The masterplan centres on four guiding principles: fostering collaboration (be connected), inspiring innovation everywhere (be ubiquitous), bringing forward local and global talents (be glocal), and championing sustainability (be resilient).

In the proposal, Sasaki and enCity suggested that Thu Duc City could utilise the model of “Future Hub Living Lab”, which supports innovative start-ups and encourages community participation. Here, new technology and prototypes can be deployed to the public and tested early in their development, allowing the community to become part of the innovation process.

Unique features of Thu Duc City

When planning for a smart city or creative city, the unique context of the area needs to be considered and incorporated in the research and design phase. Each government must plan, manage, and develop on the basis of promoting the city’s distinct characteristics in order to optimise development while maintaining its identity.

Measuring a total of 22,000 hectares, Thu Duc City is composed of a large geographical area. Many famous smart and creative urban districts in the world are just under a few hundred hectares, such as Brainport (Netherlands), One North (Singapore), [email protected] Barcelona (Spain), and Kendall Square (Cambridge, USA). Thu Duc City’s immense size offers great potential for development but also poses challenges for planners and policymakers when it comes to determining where to start and how to strategise implementation.

Another feature of Thu Duc City is the creative spirit originating from the city’s history manifested in its current ubiquitous innovation ecosystem. The first plans for Saigon were not designed by the French, but by a Vietnamese named Tran Van Hoc in the 18th century. In today’s Ho Chi Minh City, creativity is not limited to places defined by land use functions or programming, such as universities and technology parks, but also demonstrated in shophouses, sidewalks, streets and can come from anywhere in the city. Moreover, there are some opinions that the minimum income for people to live in smart cities should be demarcated. Thu Duc City, however, is a melting pot for different socio-economic backgrounds and origins. This allows for a diverse and inclusive environment where a wide range of people can gain access to quality resources, spark new collaborations and discover breakthroughs.

Ms. Trang Vuong, Managing Director, enCity (Photo: Bao Zoan)

Advantages of Thu Duc City in developing a smart city model

Public transport is the lifeblood of a livable city, bringing efficiency, and dynamism to urban life. In addition to its inherent creativity, Thu Duc City has potential in terms of infrastructure. Although the existing road traffic is fragmented, the city has priority investments in planned public transportation networks, such as the Metro Line No. 1 and Line M2.

Thu Duc City also has a rich natural ecosystem, which can bring the advantage of urban landscaping, tourism development and biodiversity preservation. Instead of viewing the city’s flood problem as a setback, it provides an opportunity for testing smart building applications and adaptive solutions, which reinforces its vision as an urban living lab. Here, the goal can be to research and plan for the most favorable conditions for the city to evolve using technological innovations produced in the district itself.

Lastly, there are already existing innovation clusters in the area such as the Thu Thiem FinTech Zone, National University, Saigon High-Tech Park, and Thao Dien Area (District 2). Prior to development plans, the city has organically attracted famous start-ups in the IT, finance, architecture and art sectors. The presence of these companies sets up the scene for creative and high-tech industry players to be further drawn to Thu Duc City.

Thu Duc City viewed from Disctrict 1, Ho Chi Minh City

The disruptive ideas on Thu Duc City’s masterplan

In the Sasaki-enCity proposal presented during the competition, the most significant strategy that was highly commended by the jury was the addition of north-south and east-west arterial traffic axes – including the important route from Pham Van Dong, through Thanh Da, Truong Tho, Rach Chiec, towards Dong Nai at the east – which increase the city’s connectivity to neighboring provinces. Furthermore, it promotes shaping urban growth around public transport (transit-oriented development) and leveraging on-demand transit solutions.

The masterplan by Sasaki and enCity focused on an over-all development framework which ensures regional connectivity and long-term vision. Beyond planning and design, it also outlined implementation policies and strategies with specific toolkits, including an easy-to-use online platform for community participation.