Khu do thi Lideco (Lideco Urban Area) is a residential development in Hanoi’s Hoai Duc District, about 17km west of downtown via Highway 32.
A privately owned Vietnamese construction company, Tu Liem Urban Development JSC—AKA Lideco—broke ground on the eponymous 38-hectare estate about a decade ago.
Between 2007 and 2012, more than 600 French-style villas were erected, the beginnings of what was supposed to be a model housing project. Today, all but a few of the homes remain unfinished or unoccupied, earning Lideco the sinister moniker of ‘Hanoi ghost town’.
We pull up at Lideco on a Sunday afternoon and something immediately feels amiss. A huge archway signals our entry into the neighbourhood, but the guard post stands empty and no one questions our presence. Bright blue lamp posts and towering palms decorate a nature strip that runs the length of the main thoroughfare, Lideco Bac 32. On either side of the boulevard, row upon row of identical houses unfold, giving the impression that we’ve driven into a hall of mirrors. These particular buildings are all painted and fitted with windows and doors, but most are obviously vacant.
In the middle distance, a different landscape materialises. Red brick carcasses, the rudimentary skeletons of new homes, crowd the skyline. On closer inspection, they have gaping holes where windows should be and wooden flaps for doors.
Lideco is roughly split in two. The eastern half of the development is crowded with multi-story duplex villas, while the western half is less dense and reserved for single-family villas. The centrepiece of the neighbourhood is an artificial lake, which is surrounded by an expansive paved recreational zone. This layout mirrors many of the villages I’ve seen in and around Hanoi—including Ngoc Ha village where I live. In contrast to villages like Ngoc Ha that have been inhabited for generations and are alive with street commerce, Lideco is totally devoid of all charm and character.
There’s a standing ban on fishing, but a few men cast their lines into the lake anyway. As we approach them, a very DPRK-esque scene unfolds: A lone woman dressed in pink flies a brightly coloured kite against a backdrop of lifeless blue and white buildings, and a greying sky. She doesn’t live in Lideco, she tells us, but travels here from her home because it’s a nice place for her kids to play. For all its faults, Lideco is a good place to stretch your legs away from the pollution and crowds of Hanoi. A few elderly men bike around the empty streets. A learner driver gingerly navigates through empty intersections.
The homes themselves are gigantic by Hanoi standards. Unlike the tall, narrow buildings you see elsewhere in the city, these are sprawling mansions clearly earmarked for wealthy investors. Once inside, you can ascertain the basic floor plan: Open-plan living areas and multiple bedrooms with en suites spread over four or five storeys. The homes look and feel identical. The one building that stands apart is located close to the entrance—the front is decorated with extravagant (read: hideous) concrete moulding and a lonely chandelier hangs in the portico. It’s unclear whether this is just a customised house or the home of someone important, the developer perhaps. Garages on some of the neighbouring properties have been bricked over to dissuade people from wandering in and sheltering their livestock there.
Apart from a few side streets that are sectioned off with makeshift chicken wire fences, visitors are free to roam around as they please. There’s nothing to prevent you from climbing inside the empty brick shells, either. It’s fascinating to see a house in its bare-bones state. Inside, it’s all exposed bricks and mortar, and in the top cavity, the concrete skeleton of a gabled roof. Flaky black and green mould coats some of the concrete floors. Moss and plant life springs from cracks in the walls. Overgrown tropical weeds and knee-high grass form a protective barrier around each of the houses.
Many view developments like Lideco as a solution to urban population growth. In 2012, there were reportedly 765 urban areas in Vietnam. If predictions are correct, 52 million people—or 50 percent of the country’s population—will live in 1,000 urban areas by the year 2025.
Lideco proves that it’s not always that simple. There are mixed reports online as to why so many of the villas remain uninhabited. According to one source, as of 2014, two-thirds of the villas had been sold, but only guaranteed with part-payments. In 2010, the villas carried a price tag of seven billion VND (about 308,000 USD). In a few short years, property values dropped by an estimated 30 to 50 percent. Unwilling to pour more money into the homes or to re-sell at a lower price, many buyers simply sit on their investments.
Another source reports that Lideco violated buyer contracts by exceeding the anticipated handover time for the homes by 12 months. Investors demanded a two percent fee as compensation, which Lideco were unable or unwilling to pay. It could be that the company simply cut its losses.
Whatever the reason, Lideco is virtually deserted. Not unlike the infamous ghost cities in China, it isn’t exactly abandoned because it was never occupied to begin with. Interestingly, the neighbourhood hasn’t been totally forsaken: Some of the gardens near the entry are well-tended, and we saw a few workers building a gazebo in one of the recreation areas.
A hope that Lideco will still become the suburban utopia that was once envisioned seems to endure in the hearts of some.