The shift to “market socialism” has brought rapid and profound changes to urban landscapes in Vietnam. Focusing on the fate of socialist architecture and urban design under contemporary urban redevelopment and renewal plans, this essay explores the transformation of Vinh City, capital of the province of Nghệ An, from a center of socialist utopian modernity and postwar urban recovery to a symbol of urban blight and late socialist decay. Destroyed by aerial bombing during the war with the United States, Vinh City was redesigned and rebuilt in the postwar years with East German aid, technology, and urban planning expertise. A primary focus of urban reconstruction was Quang Trung communal housing, consisting of eighteen hundred apartments and dormitories in five-story buildings that housed more than eight thousand residents, mainly workers and veterans in need of housing after the war. Since 2004, sections of Quang Trung have been demolished and replaced with a trade center and high rise condominiums. Based on ethnographic and historical research in Vietnam and Germany, the essay traces new strategies of urban governance that endeavor to reorder and redesign city space through acts of architectural destruction and reconstruction that likewise infuse capitalist logics and values, such as privatization and self-actualization, into the cityscape. Emerging geographies of neoliberalism in Vietnam are shown to be contingent upon the pathologization of socialist “ruins” and urban practices, and their eradication from the landscape of urban memory. Visual spectacles of demolition thus signify new aesthetic and economic regimes that link capitalist redevelopment and redesign to the formation of modern, prosperous, and “civilized” cities and citizens.
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Christina Schwenkel; Civilizing the City: Socialist Ruins and Urban Renewal in Central Vietnam. positions 1 May 2012; 20 (2): 437–470. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-1538479
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