This photo essay was specially written for Urban Asia Week on ThisBigCity, a sustainable urbanism site.
I live in Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city in Vietnam, which last year already had less than half of the green spaces per person than the World Health Organization’s minimal recommended amount. In a city of over 7 million people that has lost half of its greenery in the last decade, each square kilometre is shared by 3,400 inhabitants.
The tropical climate has a monsoon season lasting close to six months, but it is the urban density that has increased flooding. Ranking close to 40th most dense city in the world, HCMC residents have developed some ingenious practicalities to cope with the city’s logistics, such as the ability to momentarily stop one’s motorbike and in only a few seconds put on a raincoat, as soon as the rain starts.
This photo essay explores the ways in which people negotiate the use of their limited living quarters. The available space in or around one’s sleeping quarters is fair game for all domestics. In a country where the majority of the population do not have plentiful wardrobes bursting with fashion consumables, the heat, humidity and pollution make daily laundry washing an essential task. The photos below illustrate the constraints of space and the inventiveness in finding a place to dry clothes.
These terraced houses face what used to be the oldest mosque in Saigon, dating to the late 1800s. The lovely old mosque was demolished and the washing now faces the construction site of a new, monumental and glossy mosque. A huge plastic sheet stops some of the dust from getting to the clothes.
Groups of construction workers are employed far from their home villages. They set up huts near the building site. There is little or no privacy. Women are often seen working hard on the construction site in the daytime and doing all the housework afterwards.
One of the few (expensive) plots of land that are as yet unbuilt on. This temporary green space is used by neighbours who have no space in their own homes to dry their laundry. Once the construction begins on this patch, they will have to find another place for their washing.
All photos © Cristina Nualart 2010-2011
For more info on Climate Change and Urban Planning in Southeast Asia: http://sapiens.revues.org/881