Climate Change, Design and Disaster Field Trip, Hoi An, Vietnam

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In May 2018, several MoDDD students, along with students from Master of Landscape Architecture and Master of Urban Planning had the privilege of visiting Hoi An, Vietnam for a field trip, during the unit Climate Change, Design and Disasters. Accompanied by Dr John Fien, Dr Yazid Ninsalam and local researcher in disaster resilient housing, Tran Tuan Anh from University of Hue, we were tasked with reviewing and analysing Hoi An’s climate change ‘readiness’, with a spotlight on flood and typhoon related vulnerabilities. To do this, our research group engaged in a three stage methodology of data collection, data storage and analysis, and feedback and reporting.

With the UNESCO World Heritage listed ancient town as a backdrop, the first half of our six day timeframe was absorbed by self-directed field investigations (largely by bicycle!) combined with presentations from local researchers, stakeholders and heritage conservation specialists.

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Highlights included travelling to Da Nang with Dr Phong Tran (Technical Lead for Institute of Social and Environmental Transition / ACCCRN Vietnam). With him we visited typhoon resistant low income housing produced via participatory processes led by Da Nang Womens’ Union. It was also very interesting to hear from Cuong Dinh Quang about his dual roles as Deputy Head of Da Nang People’s Committee and Chief Resilience Officer for Da Nang, given the city’s recent partnership with Rockefeller’s 100 Resilient Cities.

Back in Hoi An, we were granted a short walking tour with conservation specialists from Hoi An cultural heritage museum. From them we learnt more about how the heritage quality of the old town is managed and protected from not only climatic risks, but also the exponential increase in tourism to the area.

With three days left until we were to present our findings to a selected group of city level stakeholders, our team split into work groups. Some engaged in situational analysis of Hoi An, focussing on a prospective flood corridor branching from the old town through peri-urban areas along the river, to the coast. Others focussed on vulnerabilities mapping, while another group conducted a rapid desktop study of ‘adaptation pathways planning’. By week’s end we managed to bundle together our thoughts in order to make a presentation to various city level stakeholders, hosted at the impressive Hoi An Cultural Heritage Museum.

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The discussion with our audience at the conclusion of our presentation was by far one of the most rewarding experiences of the week. In this forum our assumptions about Hoi An’s climate change readiness were put to the test. Gaps in our data collection were filled through insights from the city level water resources manager, the city architect and other city officials – in essence, a wealth of information we would have done well to have accessed throughout our field studies! What emerged was that city level governance in Hoi An is remarkably strong, with many hard and soft systems in place, ready to be scaled up, if current ‘experiments’ show positive results during upcoming flood and typhoon periods. It was humbling to learn that Hoi An live well with water and have in place various tried and tested mechanisms by which they accommodate, rather than combat, inundation by water.

We look forward to sharing further critical discourse of this trip at the upcoming intensive where we hope to inspire and inform a potential research cohort for next year, to pick up where we left off.

— Nikhila Madabhushi