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Old Quarter of Hanoi primed for speculators

| Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, 5:24 p.m.

HANOI — Tourists, hawkers and motorcyclists rub shoulders every morning in the congested alleyways of Hanoi's low-rise Old Quarter, which seems generations away from the office towers and electronics megastores springing up in other parts of the Vietnamese capital.

The quarter's street grid, laid out in the 15th century, is dominated by dilapidated shops selling everything from brass gongs to bamboo scaffolding.

It is among Asia's best-preserved urban hubs of traditional commerce — thanks largely to decades of inattention. The 203-acre downtown area is crammed with Buddhist temples, pagodas and French colonial shophouses, whose original tiles and peeling paint have become a draw for foreign visitors.

With property values high, this neighborhood could change dramatically in the coming years as similar ones have in Singapore, Shanghai and many other cities. Authorities want to begin gentrifying the Old Quarter by relocating 6,200 households by 2020.

Some of them are nervous about being exiled to the city's dusty margins and of being forced to accept a bad deal from a communist government that has generated discontent by forcing people off their land with compensation far below market rates.

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