OPINION – Lights on!

At last, we have a blueprint! After many years in waiting, the Urban Master Plan draft is out. It will be in public consultation until early November. Unambiguously: it is good news on its own that the document exists and is available for general discussion. It may bring some discipline to the urban development and help prevent or mitigate the extra degradation of our urban landscape that many fear. 

The setting up of guidelines for urban development has been continuously postponed over the years. The absence of such a document created a regulatory vacuum. In practice, changes in the urban landscape could be open-ended and acceptable, if anyone interested in the matter could persuade those with the power to grant their wishes. 

Several changes for the worse took place – or so many felt. They could arguably have been avoided, as any reasonable master plan would have limited, if not prevented them altogether – or so many thought. More disheartening, it led to unhealthy suspicions concerning the putative interests that might lurk behind the delays. For some older parts of the city (new reclamation areas are another matter), the Plan may arrive too late. 

The assessment of the Plan’s merits will require a more meticulous analysis and discussion; and will surely benefit from the provision of additional explanations and details by the authorities. Regardless of its merits, however, it is time to hope it will be more successful than its predecessors. 

If the past is of any guidance, prudence is advisable. In the early years of this century, the extant urban plans – for NAPE and Nam Van Lake areas – were swiftly revoked. The odd argument was that they had fulfilled their mission. Yet, the NAPE plan had been torn to pieces, so much so that its author had disowned it. The lakes’ plan was far from finished, and the area’s occupation was already effectively changing.  None of the plans were replaced until today. Hopefully, the void, there and elsewhere, is coming to an end. 

(Closing note: in parallel, another consultation is starting, which is also relevant for the urban development debate – creating the so-called East line for the Light Rail network. It will open another corridor for people’s transportation, which may actually help reduce traffic congestion and break the layout impasse on the peninsula side. This is a much more recent addition to the political agenda; we will come back to it here.)