Moving Ho Chi Minh City: Planning Public Transit in the Motorbike Metropolis
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation analyzes the role of speed in contemporary urban life in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. While the modern condition often champions speed, I found residents and city planners criticizing the effects of increasingly accelerated movement on street life, safety, and the environment. I argue that trends in transportation planning are shifting from a modernist urbanist emphasis on speed to a holistic integration of mobility with daily activity. The dissertation is based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork with planners working on the major public transportation plans being developed in 2013 and operators of the current public transportation systems. While planners are often assumed to be concerned mainly with traffic flow, my research shows these experts recognize transport as an important aspect of the social space of the public street. Engaging with scholarly literatures on infrastructure, mobility, and Vietnam, the dissertation is divided into three parts: material infrastructures, lived experiences of transportation, and imagined futures for transport systems. Part I looks into the history of transportation infrastructure in Ho Chi Minh City by examining the material spaces these infrastructures create. Part II analyzes lived experiences of transportation infrastructure. Finally, Part III interrogates the imagined spaces of the city through the perspectives and practices of transportation planners. The research is concerned with how the science of urban planning and other technologies shape urban form and mediate individuals’ experiences of and access to the city. As the cities of Southeast Asia rapidly grow, examining the epistemologies and technologies that are guiding their shape becomes ever more important for understanding urban life.