ACCCRN Champion Author: Anu Jogesh Comments
ASIA: Vietnam

There’s a phrase in Vietnamese that Dr Vu Kim Chi likes to use “Đi một ngày đàng, học một sàng khôn” or “Travelling shapes a young man.” The proverb was originally intended for men, but that didn’t stop Chi from embracing its implication. Hailing from a family of cartographers, she grew up around maps, and dreamed of travelling.

“I have been familiar with maps since I was a child. When I was small, I liked to look at the globe or the world map and point out the places that I want to visit and try to find more information about different places. My career now gives me the chance to travel, which gives me the chance to learn different things from different people.”

She recalls that when she started out, geography was still a male-dominated pursuit because it was difficult for women researchers to travel far from home. Chi has since broken that stereotype. Having spent many years in the mountain areas of Vietnam with different ethnic minority groups, she has carved her space as a geographer. Today she is well known for her work on spatial analysis of land use patterns in Vietnam.

Chi isn’t shy about stating where her strengths lie, “I am quite good at Geographical Information Systems (GIS) for mapping land use change.”

When it comes to urban planning and climate resilience however, she calls herself a “Newbie.” 

Three years ago, she attended a workshop on Urban Spatial Planning in response to Climate Change in Asia, in 2012, and the connections she made eventually led her to apply for a small grant to work on climate change resilience planning in Quy Nhon city. The grant came from IIED as part of the ACCCRN project.

The study, Chi notes, has been innovative in its use of a mix of methodologies including the use of spatial analysis. Through her expertise in remote sensing and GIS she has been able to demonstrate how the expansion of the city coupled with shoreline modifications will make the city more vulnerable to climate change in the future.

Vu Kim Chi with staff, she is a remote sensing and GIS expert but a self-described urban planning “newbie”. Credit: Huy Nguyen

“Areas in which further urban development will take place are located in areas that are exposed to the impacts of climate change, particularly flooding. According to the city plan, more tourism infrastructure will be built near the northeast coast of Quy Nhon city. However, this study has shown that this area has an eroded and unstable shoreline.”

Chi hopes that this finding could be used to inform planners in the City. While there is an increased awareness of climate change among locals and government officials in Vietnam, Chi believes that some serious challenges persist.

Firstly, climate resilience has not yet been co-opted into the urban planning process. Much of the evidence still rests with scientists, researchers, and academic institutes. On the other hand, local knowledge on climate variable patterns or community participation is not included in government-driven urban planning either.

Finally, isolated projects at the subnational level while engaging with the community, remain just that, isolated. They do not reach the central government where most of the planning and decision making occurs. Even the study meant for ACCCRN, she says, “was limited to local researchers and local government officials. While these agents have recognised the fragility of the city’s systems, they lack the power to positively influence those institutions ruled by central and local decision makers.”

Chi has been using remote sensing data for over a decade and she believes spatial planning is an ideal visual tool to inform policymakers about different aspects of climate resilience in urban and rural planning.

But she adds, “planners currently look at the statistical figures of population growth or the economic development of an urban area, not historical spatial development of the region.”

She is keen for her work to bridge that gap.

Mainstreaming climate resilience in urban planning isn’t Chi’s only motivation. She is working to change ideas and perceptions through her teaching. The Vietnamese curriculum still relies on Russian pedagogy (In the mid-70s, there was an influx of Russian language, culture and instruction in Vietnam because of support from the former Soviet Union). Chi says this kind of teaching is heavy on theory.

“In Europe and the US, the books differ from Vietnamese books. We need to change to a new system. I am keen to introduce a new curriculum in Vietnam through my lectureship.”

Her time as a graduate and PhD student in Belgium has given her a better understanding of how teaching on urban planning and climate change can be improved. For instance, “resilience,” she says is a new term in Vietnam.

“I’ve started familiarizing students with the concept of resilience, both in the socio- economic and climate perspective.”

Having worked on urban planning and land use change for three years now, she is keen to continue in that area.

“While my work has focused on both urban and rural areas, I realised that developments in urban areas are happening at a faster pace, especially in a developing country like Vietnam. At present, 33% of the population is living in urban locations, and it is expected to become 50% by 2026.”

Born and raised in Hanoi, Chi calls herself a city-girl, and her near immediate goal is to, “deliver more and more research to help improve urban climate resilience in cities in Vietnam.”

Recommended reading by Vu Kim Chi: Coastal urban climate-resilience planning in Quy Nhon, Vietnam

Climate change, sea-level rise and associated events such as shoreline erosion, coastal flooding and water pollution could affect coastal areas in a variety of ways. New approaches to understanding urban planning and land, water, waste and ecosystem management are needed.

In this study Vu Kim Chi and her co-authors reveal that urban planning is a spatial decision-making process, which requires a multi-disciplinary research approach. They argue that it should take into account a range of factors from social aspects to the natural conditions of the urban territory, which is required to consider city development in a global context.