Planning for a Child’s Smile

Planning for a Child’s Smile

Planning for a Child’s Smile

by Dinh Dang Hai

If you have a chance to visit Vietnam, the first thing you realize is that this is a country for motorbikes and cars.

It wasn’t always like this. Less than 20 years ago, our people moved about their cities and villages by walking and cycling. But nowadays motorcycles and cars are being used for more than eighty percent of road trips in Vietnamese cities. People use private motorbikes for their daily trips to work, to supermarkets, to … everywhere. Motorcycles and cars occupy most of the cities’ spaces. Parks have become parking lots and sidewalks have become roads for motorcycles at rush hour. Going out on the street fills almost all pedestrians, especially children, with fear. They are forced to go to school and everywhere in the city behind their parents’ backs on motorcycles and there is no chance for them to learn to smile at their surroundings.

If the children understood that they would have to sit on the saddle of a motorcycle their whole life, they would probably ask their parent why they have learned to walk.


Her bike put in the tiger cage. The balcony is space for her to play. She goes out behind her father’s back. Image by: Dinh Dang Hai

The story of Vietnamese children learning to walk and learning to smile made us think about what we, at HealthBridge, could do to change their situation. In 2010, we decided to start in Hoian, a small and beautiful city in the middle of Vietnam, with multiple strategies for advocacy.

In Hoian, the children live in the same condition as children all over the country. There are no safe sidewalks for them to walk on, no interesting spaces for them to play, and they are growing up with tablets and video games.

To address this, we collaborated with Action for the Cities (ACCD), a local NGO based in Hoian, to build a 200 square metre playground for children of the An My neighbourhood in Cam Chau ward in an undeveloped open space inside the ward’s communal house. The playground was created from local and reused material and was built by the local people. The investment cost for this playground was US$ 10,000 and the community contributed half of those funds and a significant amount of labour.

After three months of development, the playground now provides a play space for nearly 100 children. In 2011, we developed the second showcase neighbourhood playground in the nearby Cam Thanh ward, which was 300 square metres.

Thanh Tam Tay Playground. Image by: Phuong-Ha

Then in 2012, we shifted to a bigger pocket park of 3,000 square metres in the Son Pho neighbourhood. From an undeveloped space that was being misused as private land, a park and playground for children was created along with a mix of spaces for other users’ needs. The community wanted space to exercise and places to sit, relax, and enjoy the shade of trees.

All of our cases were designed to demonstrate to Vietnamese cities that communities can do many things for their children with existing resources. Hundreds of children have started to learn to walk and learn to smile at the parks and playgrounds in close proximity to their homes.

An Hoi City Park. Image by: Pham Van Hung

These small and cheap playgrounds and parks are best practices with great community engagement both in development and maintenance. The showcase parks along with our other key strategies such as involving leaders, building partnerships, supporting and building local capacity and working with media, lead us to the successfully advocate to the Hoian government.

Finally in early 2013, Hoian decided to develop a Parks Master Plan for their residents, especially for children and old people. After two years of study and development, the Parks Master Plan of Hoian was approved in August 2015.

Hoian city is going to prioritize their neighbourhood parks and will create a network of public spaces within 400 – 800m walking distance, which equals a 5 to 10 minute walk, of every resident. By 2020, each neighbourhood of Hoian will have at least one mixed-use public space that will include playgrounds for children, space for old people to exercise, seating and shade for relaxing, and a community meeting space.

Pedestrian area in the centre of Hoian. Image: Pham Van Hung

HealthBridge and our partners in Hoian understand that the story of children’s footsteps and smiles will never stop. We have lots of work to do to plan the city for people to walk to their exciting destinations to play, to communicate, and to experience their beautiful city.

In the next few years, while we continue to follow up with the Parks Master Plan’s implementation, the city will think about how to create a supportive built environment to encourage its residents to walk and cycle to their destinations. We expect that Hoian will be an example for other Vietnamese cities to learn from.

Dinh Dang Hai is the Senior Project Officer of the Livable Cities Program of Health Bridge Foundation of Canada in Vietnam.

He won a Walking Visionary prize with the project “Hoian Public Spaces Master Plan“.