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PSU, Portland help Vietnam build ‘eco-city’
Author: Jenny DuVander, Institute for Sustainable Solutions
Posted: January 13, 2012

The city of Hoi An, Vietnam, has tapped urban planning expertise from Portland State and the city of Portland to help it become a model “eco-city” in southeast Asia.

If the plans for green transportation, ecotourism, natural resource management, and energy efficiency are successful, Hoi An could become an example for sustainable development in other locations across Vietnam, a nation that is extremely vulnerable to climate change.

Experts predict a sea level rise of one meter in Vietnam by 2100, resulting in drastic effects on both the land and its residents. Heeding these warnings, officials want to prepare residents and seek out solutions to offset climate impacts.

In September 2011, a team of eleven PSU faculty and students, as well as staff from the city of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and the Portland Sustainability Institute (PoSI), conducted a three-day collaborative planning event in Hoi An. The problem-based workshop, or atelier, was the first of its kind, bringing together 50 Hoi An officials and community representatives to analyze the city’s planning documents, prioritize projects, and outline goals for measuring success. The planning framework that PoSI has developed for Portland ecodistricts was applied to the Hoi An context.

The Vietnamese government, with support from the United Nations, wants to replicate PSU’s atelier in other provinces, cities, and rural areas in Quang Nam province where Hoi An is located.

Hoi An hopes to integrate green design standards for new construction and retrofit existing infrastructure in the city. “They are very interested in success stories from Portland, like incorporating bioswales into road designs for storm water management,” said Marcus Ingle, a professor in PSU’s Hatfield School of Government who has worked on sustainable development and collaborative governance issues in Vietnam since 1993.

Ingle uses the Vietnam project as a case study for his students, many of whom go on to travel and do research there.

This year, a group of PSU graduate students will travel to Hoi An for 10 weeks or more to collaborate with local officials and residents on developing governance models that help establish local ownership of eco-city goals. Examples include energy conservation, infrastructure for bike and pedestrian traffic, and training workers for green jobs.

Hoi An is an ancient trading port designated as a UN World Heritage Site. PSU’s partnership there is funded by the United Nations Human Settlements Program, or UN-HABITAT, which has also been instrumental in developing the eco-city model. Support from the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State helped facilitate student internships, faculty travel, and the development of the atelier last summer.

This fall, officials from the city of Hoi An will visit Portland State for PoSI’s annual EcoDistrict Summit.

Ingle sees the partnership as a two-way learning opportunity for both countries. “Portland also has a lot to learn about sustainability from Vietnam, because their historical context is so much longer than ours. As flooding and other risks grow due to climate change, the Vietnamese will be leaders in planning and adapting emergency management strategies.”