Vietnam’s Capital City Backtracks on Tree Removal Plan Following Public Outcry

vietnam-hanoi-tree-protest-march-2015.jpg Local residents hold placards as they protest against a tree-cutting plan approved by the municipal authorities in downtown Hanoi, March 20, 2015.

Authorities in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi on Friday reversed a plan to remove thousands of trees lining the city’s thoroughfares after residents took to the streets in a rare protest and slammed the move in an online campaign.

With the rainy season approaching, government officials in Hanoi had planned to cut down 6,700 dead or dying trees they say presented a risk to pedestrians as part of a U.S. $3.4 million landscaping project, the official Than Nien newspaper reported.

The trees marked for removal—many of which were planted by the city’s former French colonial rulers—also included those that had been “poor aesthetic choices,” and others that presented an impediment to planned infrastructure projects, the report said, citing the city’s Department of Construction.

But soon after authorities cut down some 500 of the trees, angry residents unleashed a torrent of criticism against the plan, and on Friday, chairman of the Hanoi People’s Committee Nguyen The Thao announced its suspension, ordering new trees to be planted in place of those that had been removed.

Among those who rallied against the tree removal was a group of about a dozen people who gathered in downtown Hanoi on Friday holding banners in both Vietnamese and English which read “Destroying trees means destroying the environment” and calling for a suspension of the plan.

Blogger La Viet Dung told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that police initially confronted the group, but eventually allowed them to continue their protest—a rarity in one-party communist Vietnam, which does not tolerate dissent.

“They gathered at the opera house to protest the tree cutting this morning and when they rallied, some policemen tried to disperse them,” Dung said.

“However, after listening to our arguments, they stopped. They just let the people continue their protest … We were only standing on the pavement and holding our banners,” he said.

“At noon, we heard that the Hanoi government decided to suspend the tree cutting, which made us very happy.”

Later that afternoon, the Hanoi People’s Committee organized a press conference about the suspension of the landscaping project in which Hanoi vice chairman Nguyen Quoc Hung told reporters that municipal authorities “always listen to feedback from residents, as well as civil society, scientists and the media” about city management.

Although the vice chairman did not take questions from the media, he stressed that the local government values suggestions as part of its bid to build a greener city and to improve the people’s lives.

Public blowback

Ahead of the tree removal, other residents had taken to social media, starting a Facebook group to protest the plan which had gathered nearly 40,000 likes by Friday, or pinned notes to trees destined for removal which read “I am healthy, don’t chop me down.”

The protesters accused municipal authorities of being reckless in approving the plan, saying many of the removed trees were neither rotten nor eyesores.

The Than Nien newspaper on Friday quoted Tran Huy Anh of the Vietnam Architects Association as saying that he found the plan unconvincing, adding that projects which affect such large communities require more thorough and transparent preparation.

“It is excruciating to see thousands of trees being felled at the same time. How many trees can we replant in one year? And once planted, after how many years can we have the shade again?” he asked.

The paper also quoted Giang Quan, a researcher who specializes in Hanoi culture, as calling the plan “a waste of money” when the city’s per capita green space is less than one square meter (11 square feet) per person.”

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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