Beauty as control in the new Saigon: Eviction, new urban zones, and atomized dissent in a Southeast Asian city

by Erik Harms

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The eviction of residents to make way for a "new urban zone" in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is legitimized by notions of building a beautiful, breathable, and orderly city. Although angry about their unfair treatment in the eviction process, residents ultimately support this discourse of beauty. They challenge eviction through individual squabbles over compensation rates, land measurements, and resettlement sites. In the process, dissent becomes atomized and residents reproduce a mode of valuing land based primarily on monetary value. In this context, notions of beauty, despite having counterhegemonic potential, reproduce rather than challenge core ideals legitimizing the project.

photo by harms
photo by harms

Residents continue to live in the rubble as eviction proceeds, house by individual house, in Thủ Thiêm. They also participate in the dismantling of their own homes. Thủ Thiêm ward, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City. September 2010. Photo by Erik Harms.