Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

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Shared Streets: Choreographed Disorder in the Late Socialist City

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Abstract:  This article examines the local self-governance of streets and sidewalks in Hanoi, the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Streets and sidewalks are shared among diverse actors for various activities while being formally managed by the state. Since the passing of the Đổi Mới economic reform program in 1986, which paved the way for the development of a private sector economy, street trade has been flourishing in Hanoi. Private individuals, mostly women, temporarily occupy sidewalks and streets to sell their goods. This form of petty trade caters to urbanites’ everyday demand for fresh products and food. While many Hanoians are actually in favor of street trade, the municipality seeks to undermine and regulate street trade, as it contradicts some state administrators’ vision of a modern and civilized city. Drawing inspiration from Jacobs’ (1961) “sidewalk ballet,” this article particularly examines the social norms governing public space. As they constantly need to negotiate their right to the city, street traders develop tactics to circumvent the municipal sidewalk order. Following the rhythms of regular crackdowns on street trade, the emergence and vanishing of mediation spaces, and urbanites’ tactics, this contribution seeks to understand modes of urban governance over these shared spaces. This study draws on ethnographic data collected during one year of fieldwork, local newspaper analysis, and secondary literature.

Keywords:  Hanoi; post‐socialism; street trade; urban governance; Vietnam



© Sandra Kurfürst. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.