Việt Nam’s capital has a distinctive geographic signature:
Its lakes, all providing respite from the urban hubbub, open space that can’t be walked on.
Hoàn Kiếm, postcard-perfect, is a haven of heritage and myth.
Tây Hồ, the biggest by far, is favored by rowers, fishermen, young lovers who park their motorbikes near the lotus ponds.
Tiny Lake B-52 is the resting place of a rusting relic of war.
But while Hà Nội has an abundance of water, it has a paucity of parkland.
Central Hà Nội, especially, lacks the kind of grassy parkland that can be playgrounds or picnic spots.
“They don’t get it,” my bride lamented.
We were unhappy when we noticed workmen tearing up one of the last patches of grass on the banks of Tây Hồ, near the coffeehouse called Heaven.
Our children got grass stains in this tiny, nameless park graced with trees.
Instead of a simple lawn, this piece of real estate is now subject to civic “improvement.”
Cement has been poured in a large ring, about 10 metres in diameter, with brick pathways radiating pointlessly in various directions.
The circle, I suspect, will be nothing more than a big planter, perhaps with a statue as a centerpiece.
Something to look at, in other words.
But could it possibly be as appealing as the sight of children at play?
If they had build something, why not a jungle gym for children with slides and swings?
Our children have noticed the shortage of playgrounds too.
“Why do they grow grass if you can’t walk on it?”
Asked my son as we drove by the warning signs in front of a monument.
We were en route to Lenin Square, a crowded public space where skateboarders like my boy must co-exist with footballers, badminton players and children in battery-powered kiddie cars on the polished granite surface.
The footballers, I’m sure, would rather have a decent pitch –or even a lousy one, just dirt without grass.
Billions of dollars are being spent on the new, improved 21st century Hà Nội.
Transportation projects include a mighty new span over the Red River, the various flyovers to relieve crowded intersections, the nascent Metro rail system.
Then there are the private dollars going into new office towers, hotels, apartments and shopping malls.
But little things matter too.
On a street near our home the other day, the concrete-covered access to a storm drain broke, creating a hazard for motorists.
Somebody stuck a leafy branch as a warning.
Based on past observation, it may be weeks, even months, before this is repaired.
(In a previous life, covering Los Angeles City Hall, I learned that a politician’s career could hinge on his ability to fix potholes.)
Hà Nội isn’t hopeless.
Not far from that butchered patch of grass there is a much larger hunk of vacant lakeside land covered with weeds.
Why it’s still empty.
Similar lakefront sites have sprouted expensive villas and apartment towers.
Imagine that, instead of weeds, there is a pitch for footballers, and a jungle gym with slides and swings for the little kids.
A pretty thought, anyway.
By SCOTT HARRIS