Residents in Vietnamese ancient quarter plagued by preservation plan

Residents in Vietnamese ancient quarter plagued by preservation plan
Bao Vinh old quarter’s only traditional part is a few ancient houses located in the middle of a newly-built area. Photo: Nhat Linh / Tuoi Tre

A plan to turn an ancient quarter in central Vietnam into a preserved area has failed to fully deliver 16 years after it was approved, making life difficult for local residents, particularly those living in centuries-old houses that are now deteriorating.

Residents in Bao Vinh Quarter in Huong Vinh Commune, Thua Thien – Hue Province, are effectively unable to repair, sell or transfer their own houses, as it goes against the regulations of the preservation plan for the area.

The ancient town is located in the east of the Imperial City in the provincial capital of Hue, also Vietnam’s former capital.

Situated not far from the Thanh Ha wharf, Bao Vinh used to be a busy area in the 18th and early 19th century.

Today, there are only ten traditional houses with architecture unique to the 18th century left at Bao Vinh.

Having been able to stand the test of time over the last two centuries, the aging houses have begun to dilapidate, but it is not easy for locals to have their own property repaired or renovated.

One of the traditional houses that is seriously dilapidated but the owners do not have the means for reparations. Photo: Nhat Linh / Tuoi Tre
One of the traditional houses that is seriously dilapidated but the owners do not have the means for reparations. Photo: Nhat Linh / Tuoi Tre

Locals struggle with the regulations

Among the ancient houses, the two-story house of 80-year-old Phan Tam is the most unique, also the most deteriorated, in Bao Vinh.

“If I want to have my house repaired, I need to have the permission from the local administration, and the renovation must be in line with requirements for ancient houses stipulated by authorities,” Tam said, referring to the preservation plan approved by the Thua Thien – Hue Province administration in 2003.

The man added that he has to continue living in poor conditions under the aging house, as “it would cost a lot of money to follow the rules, which poor people like me cannot afford.”

Tam’s house is located in an eight-hectare-wide area zoned for preservation at Vinh Bao. Any repairs must obtain approval from authorities and be in line with the area’s architectural design and structure requirements.

Sharing the same hardship with Tam is Phan Gia Dac, whose 100-year-old house also badly needs repairing.

“Our house is built from wood and we are just unable to afford the massive cost to have it repaired in line with the standards,” Dac lamented.

In 2003, there were 40 ancient houses in Bao Vinh, according to the commune administration’s data.

The only ten remaining centuries-old houses now lie among the newly built, modern houses. For the owners of those ancient houses, ‘modernizing’ their property is a mission impossible.

Phan Tam's century-old house in Bao Vinh ancient quarter is seriously dilapidated forcing the family to live in poor conditions. Photo: Nhat Linh / Tuoi Tre
Phan Tam’s century-old house in Bao Vinh ancient quarter is seriously dilapidated forcing the family to live in poor conditions. Photo: Nhat Linh / Tuoi Tre

Only some houses should be preserved

The 2003 preservation plan of Bao Vinh also includes the establishment of an entertainment park and a tourist boat wharf and several other attractions. However, 16 years on, none of these proposed constructions have ever been developed.

And house renovation is not the only problem caused by the regulations aiming at preserving the old quarter.

Owners of houses in the preserved area are also unable to divide the ownership of the property as they wish.

This sends real-estate prices in the area to a drastic fall, because “no one wants to live in a preserved area,” Truong Thai, a local land owner, said.

Thai currently owns a 248-square-meter piece of land, which he wished to divide among family members after his father passed away.

The regulations also make it more difficult for the locals to borrow bank loans to start their own businesses since they cannot provide proof of ownership as collateral.

Even the chairman of Huong Vinh Commune admits that the current regulations to preserve Bao Vinh old quarter poses challenges for authorities to manage the constructing activities of the area.

According to researcher Nguyen Xuan Hoa, former director of the province’s culture department, the plan to turn Bao Vinh into a preserved area just fails to take the local residents’ interest into proper consideration.

“The plan should be changed to suit the needs of people involved,” he said.

Hoa believes that only a few houses should be chosen to be preserved instead of the quarter as a whole.

The researcher said that the old quarter in fact has no outstanding attractions, so there is no use trying to turn it into a preserved area in the hope of attracting tourists.

The plan to develop the ancient quarter did not fully deliver as the area no longer bears its traditional appearance. Photo: Nhat Linh / Tuoi Tre
The plan to develop the ancient quarter did not fully deliver as the area no longer bears its traditional appearance. Photo: Nhat Linh / Tuoi Tre
Inside one of the worn-down traditional houses of Bao Vinh ancient quarter. Photo: Nhat Linh / Tuoi Tre
Inside one of the worn-down traditional houses of Bao Vinh ancient quarter. Photo: Nhat Linh / Tuoi Tre

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