Authorities are mulling over a massive plan to redesign the downtown area of Da Lat to transform it into a modern financial and service hub, but the people are worried that the plan would strip the highland city of its charm having captivated tourists in the first place: the tranquility of being close to nature.
Located 1,500 meters above sea level in Lam Dong Province in the southern part of the Central Highlands region of Vietnam, Da Lat is a tourist destination popular with local and foreign visitors thanks to its year-round cool weather and scenic landscapes.
‘City of a Thousand Flowers’ and ‘City of Eternal Spring’ are among the common nicknames given to Da Lat, reflecting its colorful, archaic beauty rarely seen elsewhere in a tropical country like Vietnam.
Late last year, authorities in Da Lat unveiled a draft urban plan for the new face of the city center, which is part of a government-approved scheme in 2014 to develop Da Lat and its vicinity by 2030.
The redesign, which is estimated to cost over VND3 trillion (US$132.3 million), includes the construction of a six-hectare modern shopping center at the location of what is now the decades-old Hoa Binh Cinema, which looks over the city’s iconic Da Lat Market.
|The Da Lat Market in the center of Da Lat in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
A tourist city of ‘international stature’
The Hoa Binh Cinema, Da Lat Market, Xuan Huong Lake and a nearby hill where once stood the official residence of provincial leaders – collectively referred to as the Hoa Binh area – together make up the 30-hectare future center of Da Lat, according to Le Quang Trung, director of Lam Dong’s Department of Construction.
Having been established for over half a century, the area is in a bad state of deterioration with disorganized urban planning that is unsuitable for a tourist destination of its scale and historical significance, Trung explained.
The redesign looks to transform the area into a tourist city of international stature by establishing a financial complex with a five-star hotel, organized residential neighborhoods, and a public space that stretches around the Da Lat Market.
If everything goes as planned, the urban design will be approved in late January, after which site clearance and construction will begin right away, Trung said.
“The key idea of this redesign is to put a forest inside the city and the city inside a forest. Therefore, it is crucial that the density of green spaces be maintained at all costs,” Trung added.
“The new urban planning will also set a height limit for buildings within the downtown area, with each building not allowed to have more than five floors.”
According to the construction director, all current green spaces will be kept intact, while some residential areas and hotels near the Da Lat Market will be cleared to make way for the planting of even more trees and flowers to beautify the downtown view.
|The Da Lat Market is packed with tourists at night. Photo: Son Nguyen/Tuoi Tre News|
Despite all these positive prospects, many are still concerned that the demolition of the current center of Da Lat to construct an almost entirely new one would bring more harm than good to the city’s landscape.
Huynh Quoc, a tourist who loves Da Lat, points to the new administrative complex of Lam Dong Province as the latest example of the conflict between modernity and nature in Da Lat.
The VND1 trillion ($44.05 million) complex, constructed between 2009 and 2015, has become an eyesore in Quoc’s opinion due to its alien vibe against the overall atmosphere of Da Lat, being a giant block of concrete in the middle of a nature-friendly city.
“I was shaken to hear that the Hoa Binh area will be transformed into a modern financial and service complex,” Quoc said, adding that he has grown wary of the juxtaposition of ‘modern’ and ‘Da Lat.’
Ngo Viet Nam Son, a published Vietnamese architect, asserted that green and aquatic spaces, not buildings, must be the highlight of the new Da Lat center for it to truly become an attractive tourist city.
“The preservation and improvement of green and aquatic spaces must be the first and most important step in planning the city center. The Xuan Huong Lake and its vicinity must be placed at the center of the new downtown subdivision,” Son said.
|The Lam Vien Square that overlooks the Xuan Huong Lake in Da Lat. Photo: Son Nguyen/Tuoi Tre News|