Hanoi had few parks and playgrounds because many earmarked for this purpose were being used for parking, business or other projects.

Chairman of Vietnam Urban Planning and Development Association Tran Ngoc Chinh revealed this at a conference on May 6.

Chinh said it was sad that children and the elderly had so little space for outdoor activities.

Buildings erected in the 1970s, such as Kim Lien, Trung Tu, Giang Vo and Nguyen Cong Tru, originally had recreational areas sandwiched between apartment buildings, he said.

These areas were usually large and full of flowers and shady trees, as the idea was to provide space to children to play, young people to exercise and the elderly to walk and chat with neighbours, Chinh said.

"That public space has now been slashed, destroyed or replaced by houses, walls, stores and food stalls, besides parking areas," he said.

He said inadequate management led to the reductions in public space and shortages of playgrounds.

For instance, about 17,000 residents in Trung Phung Ward, Dong Da District, now share a playground of just 30sq.m.

As business interests started moving in, playgrounds in residential areas became degraded and unhygienic.

Parents considered them unsafe for people, particularly children, to do recreational activities there, Chinh said.

A researcher with a non-governmental organisation (NGO) Health Bridge, Nguyen Thi Hien, revealed there were a total of 67 parks, flower gardens and sports grounds with a total area of more than 365ha in the inner areas of Hanoi. However, they only accounted for 1.92 percent of the city's total land area.

She said each resident in the city's inner area now had an average of only 2.08 sq.m of park or flower garden to relax in. This was expected to increase slightly to 2.43 sq.m by 2030, he added, citing the city's planning for trees, parks, flower gardens and lakes by 2030, towards 2050.

She claimed that planning for parks and flower gardens in residential areas had not been properly planned, designed or managed.

Hien said the capital had a shortage of recreational facilities because public facilities, such as schools, roads, parking and relaxation, had to compete with each other or with private projects for the rights to public land. Sometimes, the land was auctioned off to the highest bidder.

"The city should stop these land auctions until it allocates enough land for public facilities in every ward and district," Hien said.

"City authorities are now proposing to remove old factories or those that created pollution for green space," she said.

However, this required compensation and relocation.

Director of the Architecture Institute (under the Vietnam Association of Architects), La Thi Kim Ngan, said that for years, the city had concentrated on developing houses, without paying adequate attention to public facilities.

"The major causes were the poor management of population growth, economic difficulties and poor urban management," she said.

The shortage of public space forces children to hunch in front of computer screens to play games, ignoring outdoor social activities.

Adults, especially the elderly, have restricted opportunities for social communication and recreation.

"Housing is not only the house or apartment you live in, but also surrounding public facilities," Ngan said.

Public facilities, particularly green space and playgrounds, should be the top criteria for judging cities.

Ngan added that incentives were needed to make the private sector develop parks and playing grounds.-VNA