Playing green: Co-creating accessible, eco-friendly spaces for Hanoi’s children

When a city’s population triples in twenty years’ time, essential services need extra attention. In the case of Hanoi – Vietnam’s sprawling capital and Northern cultural anchor – preserving lush green space alongside economic growth requires collaborative, deliberate efforts. 

Improving green spaces is vital to Hanoi’s future. Greenery has innumerable benefits to city dwellers that have become even more evident during COVID-19. And, for young urban dwellers, lack of access to green public spaces limits their ability to play. Kids must travel far to access public spaces, and those often lack quality playgrounds. Particularly as COVID-19 lockdown measures intensify, Hanoi’s children remain isolated with screens as their only companions. To close the profound gaps in public space access for children, ICLEI and the Hanoi Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DONRE) joined forces with Think Playgrounds, a Vietnam based social enterprise that creates playground made of recycled materials, Vietnam’s Institute for Urban and Rural Planning  (VIUP), and Live & Learn through the Ambitious City Promises project to make a change. 

Mobile playground made of recycled materials was proposed by a local resident and installed at the Nghia Tan Ward community center in Hanoi

Inspired by Seoul’s legacy of inclusive climate planning in the face of rapid urban development, the Ambitious City Promises project worked with cities across Southeast Asia to raise their climate ambition and focus on building a green and sustainable future for their communities. Through the project, Hanoi pooled commitments from stakeholders into the Promise of Hanoi, an inclusive and ambitious climate action plan for the next decade of emissions reduction actions. With support from the German Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), via its International Climate Initiative (IKI) financing instrument, the project supported Hanoi in identifying priority sectors for climate action and co-design implementation projects as proof of concept for future ambition. 

Through the Ambitious City Promises project, the City of Hanoi is implementing three pilot projects: 

1) A design contest to inspire transformative visions for Hanoi; 

2) The construction of a new playground entirely out of eco-friendly materials, and 

3) A guidebook on how to develop a low carbon public space. 

By building the new playground at the Nghia Tan Ward community center, the project was able to upcycle more than one ton of materials ‒ such as pine pallets, milk boxes, and tires ‒ that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill. It also contributed to the larger green space goal of the city that is robust at the Promise of Hanoi: the city aims to quadruple green space per capita by 2025, and to achieve 13-15 m2 of green space per capita by 2030. ACP’s implementation projects show a path to simultaneously meet green space goals while prioritizing public spaces and playgrounds.

Introducing the design contest

Together with ICLEI and Vietnamese partners, DONRE launched the “Green Design Contest: Green Public Space for a Peaceful Living” on March 26, 2021, giving residents the chance to showcase design ideas for green spaces. Winning entries would be taken into consideration for Hanoi’s climate action plan, and could be given the opportunity for immediate implementation in Cầu Giấy District, where the recycled playground was being installed. 

The contest received 47 full proposals for innovative repurposing and reimagining of Hanoi’s public spaces into spaces that foster social connections and respond to climate challenges. The volunteer panel of 7 expert judges selected 10 finalists, assigning each entry a score based on 10 different design criteria. In addition to aesthetic considerations, judges considered the potential for integration into Hanoi’s urban landscape, and how these proposals could contribute to scaling local climate actions.

Here’s a deeper look into how the four winning proposals have the potential to translate meaningful ideas into practice. The complete renderings of the project winners are featured here

Integrating innovative design into the playground infrastructure proposal

Three of the four winning proposals, informed the Think Playgrounds design for a children-focused public space in Cầu Giấy. These three winners complement each other and the entire proposal, diversifying the range of what can be considered green and sustainable. In doing so, they have created a holistic playground intervention: one that welcomes the entire community’s participation, incorporates ecological design principles, and, most of all, creates spaces for children to play. 

Red Sparrow (Overall Winner, and Practical Prize Winner)

Nomads inspire the spirit of Red Sparrow’s proposal to incorporate mobile playgrounds that rotate among Hanoi’s public spaces. Kids will no longer feel bored seeing the same item twice, and these mobile green modules inspire wider community participation to join assembling, transporting, and continually redesigning the wooden materials that could be easily biked in wagons across the city, then folded and put into cases for display or storage. One of those wooden modules is included above.

Triều Khúc Playground Proposal (Community Prize Winner)

Brothers Mr. Tran Trung Kien and Mr. Le Huy Kien joined forces as civil engineers looking to make a difference in one historic village’s public space as it balances rapid urbanization. This team’s innovative use of recycled materials can easily be incorporated into roofing for future playgrounds across Vietnam.

Ngọc Hà Women’s Union – Ngọc Hà Ward, Hanoi (Community Prize Winner)

In the Ngọc Hà Women’s Union’s ‘Flower in the Street’ program, residents collaborate in cleaning streets and beautifying their local neighborhoods. The Women’s Union facilitates exchanges among different neighborhoods, and can serve as a valuable partner in expanding the model of public play by mobilizing the community in recognizing the need for children-focused public spaces.

Integrating alternative built environment approaches across Hanoi

Low Garden is the only winner not to be integrated into the playground intervention; with a quick glance at the grandiose renderings, it’s easy to see why this proposal needs its own space.

Low Garden proposal to green pedestrian pathways beneath Hanoi’s intersections

With inspiration from similar proposals in New York and London, Low Garden proposes to transform passageways beneath complex road intersections into underground parks. The existing passageways are distinct features of Hanoi’s built environment and deserve recognition as untapped urban greening assets, and Low Garden’s design has good potential for scalability across all of Hanoi’s passageways. In fact, the Vietnam Institute for Urban and Rural Planning (VIUP), which has offered the ambitious architecture student an internship and the potential to incorporate his plans into Hanoi’s 5-10 year planning vision.

Future Outlook for Hanoi

Hanoi’s future looks bright ‒ and green. The process of soliciting design proposals, while very applicable to this particular contest, was designed to inspire new avenues for citizen participation, as well as stimulating citizens to share innovative ideas. The Promise of Hanoi’s goals for public space access and green spaces raises expectations for its future development. Meeting these expectations will only be possible with continuous stakeholder engagement, particularly with and on behalf of children.

Ambitious City Promises is implemented by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability and funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) through the International Climate Initiative (IKI)