Decisions by the Hanoi and Bach Dang Ward people’s committees to close Zone 9 – a popular community of studios, art spaces, cafés, bars and businesses in the city center – has been followed by much controversy. Zone 9 has been widely hailed as the city’s most important art and entertainment “collective.”
Zone 9 is the former home of the Central Pharmaceutical Enterprise 2. The 11,000sq.m building facing Tran Thanh Tong and Nguyen Huy Tu streets consists of five blocks built in the 1960s, located next to the Yersin Flower Garden.
After the pharmaceutical company was relocated to the suburbs in 2012, the Hanoi People’s Committee instructed Binh An Company to build a complex of office buildings and commercial centers there. However, Binh An leased the land to Tien Bo Company from August 1, 2013 through February 22, 2014.
Tien Bo then leased the land to Thanh Dat Company, which then again leased the land to individuals to open studios, restaurants, bars, coffee shops and fashion stores, turning Zone 9 into one of Hanoi’s most popular and famous addresses.
Thanh Dat established a trading collective there it called “Zone 9” after the building’s address, hence the location’s name.
In September 2013, the first accident occurred here. Two young girls were shooting photographs on the 4th floor when they fell to the third floor and died because a railing they were leaning on collapsed. After the incident, local authorities stopped granting business licenses in this zone.
On November 19, a fire at the Fuse Bar in Zone 9 killed six people.
After these fatal accidents, authorities decided to close Zone 9.
What was a collection of empty ware houses on Tran Thanh Tong Street had become a vital center for the arts, attracting young and old, Vietnamese and foreigner, and a place full of creativity, discussion and excitement.
The reasons for the closing are obscure – apparently the owner, Ocean Bank, wished the property value to remain low and the influx of businesses that attracted hundreds had the opposite effect of dramatically raising land values; and then there was the tragic incident of six workers dying when asphyxiated from fumes created by burning material ignited by welders. (The various Zone 9 businesses met with the workers’ families and donated significant amounts, and would have continued doing so.)
Rather than closing down the arts, the government should appreciate their value, and do what it can to support innovation and creativity, even if, on occasion it might bite the hand that feeds it.
Out of collectives like Zone 9 come new ideas and innovations which benefit society not only in an artistic sense. These are the kind of people whose ideas can change and improve Vietnamese society – and the world.
California’s Silicon Valley’s wealth flows from the innovative products it has created which have taken over the world. This did not occur in a vacuum, but in a wide open atmosphere of creativity and cooperation closely related to the arts.
That is why, spontaneously, the smartest and most creative flow to San Francisco, creating a cauldron of innovation from which flow hundreds of new ideas in a community atmosphere where people help each other, rather than engage in cut-throat competition.
Countries talk about creating their own “Silicon Valley”. With its highly educated, creative community, Hanoi has the potential to do this and better compete in the world market of innovation and ideas. One day it might have been said “This all started at Zone 9”, but no longer. Tadioto, the creative force that was the catalyst behind Zone 9, has risen like a Phoenix Bird from the ashes before – killed by its success.
Let’s hope the beleaguered creative community will be able to rise again, and receive a little help from people who should have been their friends this time.
By Tom Miller *
*The writer, a lawyer, has for decades contributed to projects in Vietnam as varied as plastic surgery programs to treat injured children during the Vietnam War to the more recent creation of the Vietnam Green Building Council. The opinions expressed are his own.