Water is a fundamental marker of the identity of both HCMC and Lyon, both of which have been intersected by waterways since their foundation. In the past, these waterways performed an important economic and commercial function, but today they are associated mainly with recreation and seen as a means of improving the quality of urban life. At the same time, water has long posed a major challenge to urban development and today it is the focus of all climate-related issues.
Rivers and trading hubs
Bordered by the Saigon river and intersected by several creeks, HCMC owes its development to waterway trading. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Nguyễn dynasty dug a number of additional canals to improve waterway transportion and facilitate commercial activity.
From the time of its foundation, Lyon also owed its development to its location on the banks of two major waterways, the Saône and Rhône rivers, which were used for river transportion and facilitated the emergence of Lyon as one of Europe’s major trading hubs.
Water – a major environmental challenge
Under French rule, the urban face of Saigon underwent major change as the canals which intersected the city centre were filled to create tree-lined boulevards such as Charner (Nguyễn Huệ), Bonard (Lẹ Lợi) and Pellerin (Pasteur). Subsequently, swampy areas were filled to permit the creation of residential areas. Today the city continues to grow as former wetlands are filled and transformed into new development areas such as Phú Mỹ Hưng and Thủ Thiêm.
This provision of new urban areas by reclaiming swampland raises questions about the absorption capacity of the soil after the area has been filled and the resulting flood risk, particularly in the current context of climate change.
In Lyon, the point of confluence of the Saône and Rhône rivers has also been pushed southward due to landfill to permit the development of the city in areas once occupied by water.
Recreational usage of waterways and embankments
The beauty of HCMC’s meandering waterways and the quality of their landscape settings have improved considerably since the 1990s, thanks to the recent Tàu Hủ-Bến Nghé and Thị Nghè creek cleaning and landscaping projects. These projects have revitalised and reinvigorated the city, offering citizens the possibility to stroll and practice a variety of recreational pursuits along the banks of the waterways.
The people of Lyon have also maintained a close relationship with their rivers, especially since the city authorities improved the banks of the Rhône river, transforming them into public recreation areas which attract both local residents and tourists.
Changing but always present, constituting both an asset and a potential threat, water runs ceaselessly through these two cities, impacting on urban management policies. Although the issues relating to water management in the two cities are different, both Lyon and HCMC have worked to optimise the value of their waterways and embankments, enabling their citizens to live in harmony with the water.