9 months ago

Urban Asias – Essays on Futurity Past and Present

32 I. Futures

32 I. Futures Past ent socio-spatial scales and contexts of urbanization across African, Asian, Eastern European, Soviet and Latin American countries. In what follows, I focus on Vinh City, a smaller and less prosperous industrial town that has attracted much less scholarly attention than the larger and wealthier metropolises of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. And yet, Vinh is extraordinary in its ordinariness, from its humble roots as a citadel and trading post in the nineteenth century to its expansion by French military strategists and industrialists under colonization to its postcolonial rehabilitation (khôi phục) and subsequent obliteration by US air raids (1964ong>–ong>1973), followed by comprehensive reconstruction (xây dựng lại) according to global socialist principles of urban planning. 5 Scholarship on socialist cities has not been well-integrated into urban theory. One explanation could be that these urban centers remain off the radar of most scholars. Another reason is the tendency in the literature to naturalize the city and its relationship to a sovereign nation-state, as if cities existed a priori outside of wider political, social, economic and technical circulations. Here, I move beyond this methodological nationalism to examine socialist modernity as an international project that involved the social and technological engineering of a post-imperial urban future in Vinh, an evacuated city during the war that has grown to almost half a million residents over the past decades of reform (see Figure 3.1). The worlding of socialist cities at the height of the Cold War offered hopeful imaginaries of urban technological futures to war-weary populations, whose city- and nation-building aspirations (and labor as new proletarian subjects) would likewise advance the project of building global socialism. The transfer of global technologies associated with urban development proved central to this task. Soviet planning principles, for instance, had a strong impact on the master plans and spatial arrangements of Asian cities, including the capitals of Beijing and Hanoi. 6 And yet, this particular moment and model of Asian urbanism, developed in the service of socialist revolution rather than global capitalism, remains neglected in literature on the worlding of cities. Soviet models of planning, while hegemonic, were never absolute. Like intra-Asia planning transfers that Bunnell and Das discuss, the persuasive source of socialist urban projections was diverse, if not at times unexpected. 7 Here, I bring to the fore other city-building practices and their idioms of planning that took place beyond the sphere of Soviet intervention, though they were still deeply embedded in its ideologies of socio-spatial design. I am interested in the mobile technologies associated with infrastructure development that East Germany exported to Vietnam to assist in the project of urban reconstruction after the end of the US air

33 ENGINEERING SOCIALIST FUTURES 3.1 Map of city plan for future development. Source: Ngh An Institute of Planning and Architecture, 2007.