By Michael Landerer
The case about Phu My Hung and their decision to build Crescent Mall got me thinking about the effects of such a complex on the greater Ho Chi Min City metropolitan area. Indeed, the building of a confined luxury area 4 kms south of the city reminded me in particular of one city that I have been to recently where such centers have negatively impacted overall development. The city of Johannesburg has various sub-cities built around luxury retail, safety, and the promise of removal from the dirtiness and in the case of Johannesburg, danger of living and working in the historic city center.
In Johannesburg, over the last several decades there has been a diaspora from the central business district outwards towards Northern suburbs that are gated, self-contained, and often in large complexes dominated by malls. The most notably of these areas is Sandton. Sandton, a suburb, 20 minutes north of the city center has 125,000 residents including most of the wealthier residents of Johannesburg. About 2/3s of its residents are white or Indian, far different demographics than the rest of the country. The neighborhood itself is largely interconnected indoors with the center lying in the Sandton City Mall. An enormous complex housing high end and more moderate retail stores, dozens of restaurants, both luxury hotels and apartments, and progressively more and more offices. Sandton is widely known as “Africa’s Richest Square Mile”.
Progressively over time, as residents have left Downtown Johannesburg for Sandton, so have businesses. The Johannesburg Stock exchange is in Sandton. Most of the financial intuitions and progressively more corporate headquarters have moved to Sandton.
With so many wealthy and influential residents living and working outside of the city in Sandton and similar areas like Rosemont, Johannesburg itself has been left behind. There has been less impetus for Downtown Johannesburg to become safer, more developed, and re-gentrified. Instead influential citizens and developers have expanded on the model of Sandton building self-enclosed neighborhoods around malls outside of the city center.
New developments and infrastructure have reflected the new reality. On the recently developed Gautrain, an express train around the region, the direct line from the Airport will only take somebody as far as Sandton without transfer. This type of infrastructure reflects that it is assumed that a business traveler or tourist only needs to travel that far and not necessarily all the way to the city center.
If Sandton is any indication, the Crescent Mall is clearly the right step in defining Phu My Hung and Saigon South as an enclosed and attractive area for wealthy residents, Taiwanese expats, and tourists. The question remains, is Phu My Hung the right step for the long-term development and sustainability of Ho Chi Min City. Phu My Hung may mean “Wealthy, Beautiful, Prosperous” to its residents but will it mean that for Ho Chi Min City?