7.1 Overview on Urbanization in Vietnam

Urban areas, especially cities, play an important role in the promotion of economic, cultural, education, and social development. In 2014, the total human population living in cities accounted for about 54% of the global population, while this number in 1950 was only about 30%. It is expected that in 2050, 70% of the global population will be living in cities (Gassmann et al. 2019, p 6).

The number of Vietnamese citizens living in cities is much lower than in the rest of the world. Before 1990, especially before the launching of the “Doi Moi” (renovation) policy in 1986, urbanization was very slow in Vietnam but has sped up since the 1990s. In 1990, only 19.51% of the Vietnamese population resided in urban areas; this number stood at 36.82% in 2020 (GSO 2021, p 54). There are currently 862 urban areas in Vietnam (including five centrally run cities,Footnote 1 79 provincially-run cities, 51 towns, four districts, and 719 townships). These urban areas account for about 70% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Vietnam (Tuan 2020).

Cities are often associated with good things, such as a wide range of economic opportunities and high quality of life. Cities are also associated with their negative aspects, such as crime, energy shortages, problems with garbage disposal and water supply and treatment, air pollution, noise, healthcare problems, high population density, social conflicts, overloading of infrastructure, and traffic issues (Gassmann et al. 2019, p 3). Urban areas are also vulnerable to pandemics like COVID-19. In Vietnam, like other cities, similar concerns are found, especially garbage collection and treatment, water supply and treatment, air pollution, noise, low-quality infrastructure, and traffic jams. It seems that urban managers face more and more pressures.

7.2 Definitions of Smart City

To make cities run smoothly and increase quality of life for their residents with more accessible public services, urban managers in many countries are now using a “smart city” model as an important solution to their daily problems. According to the International Standard Organization (ISO), a smart city is “a new concept and a new model, which applies the new generation of information technologies, such as the internet of things [IoT], cloud computing, big data and space/geographical information integration, to facilitate the planning, construction, management and smart services of cities” (Anthopoulos 2017, p 8). The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) also introduced a definition of “smart city” (with the term “smart sustainable city”) in 2016. According to ITU, a smart city is “an innovative city that uses ICTsFootnote 2 and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social, environmental as well as cultural aspects” (ITU 2016).

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Smart Cities Framework (adopted by ASEAN Smart Cities Network on 8 July 2018) states that.

a smart city in ASEAN harnesses technological and digital solutions as well as innovative non-technological means to address urban challenges, continuously improving people’s lives and creating new opportunities. A smart city is also equivalent to a “smart sustainable city”, promoting economic and social development alongside environmental protection through effective mechanisms to meet the current and future challenges of its people, while leaving no one behind. As a city’s nature remains an important foundation of its economic development and competitive advantage, smart city development should also be designed in accordance with its natural characteristics and potentials. (ASEAN 2018)

In a smart city, digital technologies and other advanced technologiesFootnote 3 are systematically applied “to reduce resource input, improve its people’s quality of life, and increase the competitiveness of the regional economy in a sustainable manner. It entails the use of intelligent solutions for infrastructure, energy, housing, mobility, services, and security, based on integrated sensor technology, connectivity, data analytics, and independently functional value-added processes” (Gassmann et al. 2019, p 25). Each smart city has six key dimensions: (1) smart environment,Footnote 4 (2) smart living,Footnote 5 (3) smart economy,Footnote 6 (4) smart mobility,Footnote 7 (5) smart government or governance,Footnote 8 and (6) smart people.Footnote 9 For more detailed guidance to implement smart city projects, the ISO has introduced a number of standards related to “smart cities,” such as ISO 37120 “Sustainable development of communities—Indicators for city services and quality of life” (first introduced in 2014 and revised in 2018) (ISO 2018). This standard defines 21 city themes of city services and quality of life: (1) economy, (2) education, (3) energy, (4) environment and climate change, (5) finance, (6) fire and emergency response, (7) governance, (8) health, (9) housing, (10) population and social conditions, (11) recreation, (12) safety, (13) solid waste, (14) sport and culture, (15) telecommunications, (16) urban planning, (17) transportation, (18) urban/local agriculture and food security, (19) urban planning, (20) waste water, and (21) water.

In Vietnam, no official definitions of smart city exist in any laws enacted by the national assembly. However, in one guideline issued by the ministry of information and communicationFootnote 10 in 2019, “smart sustainable city” is defined as “an innovative city that uses ICTs and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social, environmental as well as cultural aspects.” This definition is explicitly a copy of a definition of “smart sustainable city” in Recommendation ITU-T Y. 4900 by ITU as mentioned earlier. This definition can be said to be the only official definition available at present in Vietnam.

7.3 Implementation of Smart Cities in Vietnam

The idea of the “smart city” is widely understood today in Vietnam. The term “smart city” was officially introduced into policies in Vietnam in 2016. Resolution No. 05/NQ-TW dated 1 November 2016 by the Communist Party’s Central Committee, “on a number of major policies for renewal of the economic growth model, enhancing the quality of growth, labor productivity and national economic competitiveness,” is perhaps the first resolution of the Communist Party of Vietnam in which the term “smart city” was used. This resolution has only one sentence dealing with smart cities: “priority should be set to turn some cities into smart cities.” It does not explain what a smart city means. Following this step, on 1 August 2018, the prime minister of Vietnam issued Decision No. 950/QĐ-TTg approving the scheme for the development of smart sustainable cities in Vietnam in the period of 2018 to 2025 with orientations by 2030. The general objective of this scheme is.

developing smart sustainable cities in Vietnam toward green growth and sustainable development by taking advantage of and promoting existing potentialities and strengths as well as enhancing the effective use of human resources; taking the best advantage of natural resources and human resources to improve the quality of life and facilitate organizations and individuals in studying and making the investment in construction and management of smart cities.

From 2018 to 2020, the scheme focused on the establishment of legal grounds for the development of smart cities and preparations for piloting smart city models in some urban areas and at least three cities. Also in this period, the scheme planned to formulate and pilot a smart city ICT reference framework; build spatial urban data infrastructure integrated with land data based on a Geographic Information System (GIS) database and others; develop appropriate models for managing population, transport, land, construction, and investments in pilot urban areas; and develop the national urban database. By 2025, the scheme will focus on the following activities: formulating and revising legal corridor and legislative documents based on preliminary and final reports on pilot smart cities; applying ICT reference framework to development of smart cities in Vietnam; announcing national standards serving pilot smart cities, giving priority for standards for urban management, lighting, traffic, water supply and drainage, waste collection and treatment systems, electrical grids, disaster and risk warning systems, and ICT infrastructure systems; developing spatial urban data infrastructure integrated with land and construction databases and others on the basis of GIS data in pilot cities; assisting at least six cities/six economic zones to obtain approval for master schemes for development of smart cities and developing smart city facilities serving residents in smart cities; establishing pilot citizen connect centers associated with single-window sections; and piloting the application of mechanisms for issuance of certifications of smart cities. By 2030, the scheme will gradually apply mechanisms and policies on a large scale according to sectors and regions and build a network of smart cities. According to the decision, this network of smart cities will be established “in the North of Vietnam, the Central part of Vietnam, the South of Vietnam, and Mekong Delta, in which Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, and Can Tho shall be nuclear cities, and establish linkages between smart cities.” Unfortunately, Decision No. 950/QĐ-TTg does not have any definition of smart city or any set of criteria to classify an urban area as a smart city. To overcome this shortcoming, a definition of “smart sustainable city” has been stipulated in the Decision No. 829/QĐ-BTTTT dated 31 May 2019 by the minister of information and communication of Vietnam, issued as the “ICT Reference Framework for development of smart cities (Version 1.0)” as earlier mentioned. The Decision No.829/QĐ-BTTTT also sets forth key principles for development of smart cities in Vietnam as follows:

  1. (a)

    Follow a people-centered approach;

  2. (b)

    Ensure the ICT infrastructure capacity for creating a digital ecosystem that meets the development needs of apps and services for smart cities. Enhance the sharing of ICT infrastructure. Encourage open data including understandable data (clearly defined), use, and exploitation by all participants in construction of smart cities. Ensure open data owned by local governments and shared among stakeholders (if necessary);

  3. (c)

    Ensure the neutrality of technology; paying due attention to ICT application suitable to smart cities, such as IoT, cloud computing, big data, AU, and those suitable to various platforms; make use of and optimize the existing ICT infrastructure;

  4. (d)

    Ensure information safety and security, the capacity to respond to or handle information security incidents, especially for key information infrastructure; protect citizens’ personal information;

  5. (e)

    Ensure that smart city projects are consistent with current local planning and development strategies based on local reality and needs (such as need of management, citizens’ needs, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges); inherit and sustainably develop local cultural, economic, social, material, and spiritual values;

  6. (f)

    Set priority for overall missions or interdisciplinary tasks, such as ICT structure for smart cities, information safety, and broadband;

  7. (g)

    Prefer reuse to purchase or new construction (applications or system elements should be reused if possible; purchase of goods should be considered only in necessary cases and new construction is selected only in cases where some requirements are impossible to be implemented);

  8. (h)

    Manage data to ensure its correctness and to ensure quality of data is good enough for effective decision-making;

  9. (i)

    Properly manage and share data (data for processing the same type of tasks of individuals, organizations or bodies shall be the same with a transparent origin);

  10. (j)

    Ensure accessibility of data (data shall be easily searched, inquired, and displayed as similar to authentic versions);

  11. (k)

    Pilot new services or applications (samples or experiments with users and improvement based on experience of users);

  12. (l)

    Use open standards or open sources (open standards are used for all solutions designed to enhance the interconnectivity; software with open source shall be examined or reviewed together with commercial software where technical solutions are selected).

In the national socio-economic development strategy of Vietnam for the period 2021–2030, Vietnam informs that it is projected to form a series of “smart cities” in the North of Vietnam, the Central part of Vietnam, and the South of Vietnam. These smart cities shall be gradually connected with a network of smart cities in the region (i.e., ASEAN) and the world (Communist Party of Vietnam 2021, p 260). It also specifically expresses the government’s determination to turn Hanoi (the capital of Vietnam) into a “smart city” by 2030 that is modern, green, clean, beautiful, and safe (Communist Party of Vietnam 2021, p 254).

In practice, the number of provinces or centrally run cities interested in smart city projects to be implemented before the year of 2020 is far beyond the number (at least three cities) mentioned in Decision No. 950/QĐ-TTg. For example, on 23 November 2017, the People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City issued Decision No. 6179/QD-UBND approving a grand project involving “Constructing Ho Chi Minh City toward a smart city for the period of 2017–2020, orientations by the year of 2025.” This people-centered project focuses on accelerating the growth rate of the city’s economy, improving effectiveness of city governance with better prediction, and an “active approach” rather than “passive replies,” improving the living and working environment for the people and attracting more public participation to city governance. Some initiatives are mentioned in this grand project, such as high-quality public transportation with interconnected e-tickets, smart parking, open data for transportation systems, autonomous monitoring of traffic or construction violations, e-health dossiers, open data for healthcare services, open data for environmental problems, open data for education and job opportunities, e-administrative procedures, and an ecosystem for startups. This project also opens the door to set up a smart city steering center and a center for cybersecurity. Additionally, this project gives a green light to public–private partnership initiatives for delivering certain public city services.

Another example of smart city implementation is Bac Ninh Province,Footnote 11 which set up a “steering committee for smart city” in 2017. In September 2019, Bac Ninh completed a “pilot center for running the smart city” that hosts many databases including about 1100 statistical indicators in various sectors, such as education, healthcare, transportation, social affairs, finance, natural resources and environment, agriculture, technology and science, and public administration. This province also installed 286 CCTVs for monitoring traffic, which provided a useful tool for police to handle administrative violations or car accidents. In the next few years, about 3200 CCTVs are expected to be set up for city governance (ST 2020). These CCTVs are directly connected to the “pilot center for running the smart city.” By 2030, Bac Ninh expects it shall be governed under the model of a smart city.

Many other provinces and cities also follow the steps of these pioneers. On 9 March 2018, the People’s Committee of Lao Cai Province issued a Plan No. 83/KH-UBND on deployment of construction of a smart city in Lao Cai Province for the period of 2018–2025. On 12 July 2018, Thua Thien—Hue Provincial Peoples’ Council issued Resolution No. 12/NQ-HĐND ratifying the project on “Development of Smart City Services for Thua Thien—Hue Province up to 2020, orientations by the year of 2025” with a budget of 323 billion VND (equal to 14 million USD) for this project. On 29 December 2018, People’s Committee of Da Nang City issued Decision No. 6439/QĐ-UBND ratifying the project on construction of a smart city in Da Nang City for the period of 2018–2025, orientations by the year 2030. On 1 August 2019, People’s Committee of Yen Bai Province issued Decision No. 1373/QD-UBND approving the project to implement the smart city model in Yen Bai Province for the period of 2019–2021, orientations by the year 2025. On 12 December 2019, People’s Council of Hai Duong Province issued a Resolution No. 20/2019/NQ-HĐND approving the project for construction of e-government and a smart city in Hai Duong Province for the period of 2020–2025, orientations by the year 2030.Footnote 12 On 28 February 2020, People’s Committee of Nam Dinh Province issued a Plan No. 18/KH-UBND on deployment of smart city services in Nam Dinh Province. On 9 March 2020, People’s Committee of Quang Ninh province issued Plan No. 47/KH-UBND on the development of smart cities in Quang Ninh Province for the period of 2020–2025, orientations by the year 2030.

It is interesting that the “smart city” has become such an attractive idea that not only big cities with good resources are interested in initiating their development, but some provinces in mountainous areas are also keen on such development. For example, Ha Giang Province (a mountainous province in the north) had a plan for its “smart city” in 2018 (to turn its central city, Ha Giang City, into a smart city). In accordance with Decision No. 2453/QĐ-UBND dated 2 November 2018 by the People’s Committee of Ha Giang Province ratifying the smart city project applicable to Ha Giang City by the year 2020, the province invested 45 billion VND (i.e., about 2 million USD) for this project. This project focused on implementing a smart city application on smart phones (namely “MyCity”) for all citizens of the city. With this application, citizens can easily access sources of city information (such as public service procedures, emergency information for health problems, fire and police services, and transportation information). With this application, citizens can send their opinions or reports to the city government directly. This project also enhances the digital transformation of planning processes, promotes smart tourism services (including provision of about 50 free Wi-Fi points in the city for tourists and citizens), sets up three autonomous environmental monitoring systems to control the city’s air quality, and sets up a CCTV system for monitoring traffic jams and traffic violations. This project also provides a service of smart cards for students, for public servants, and for citizens and entrepreneurs to use their essential public services. Moreover, this project includes a “Smart City Operation Center” and a “Local Government Services Platform.” In the south of Vietnam, Hau Giang Province (not yet a rich province), the provincial government also issued a Resolution No. 51/NQ-HĐND dated 4 December 2020 approving the project on e-government and smart city for 2021–2025 with a budget of 300.5 billion VND (equal to about 13 million USD). Perhaps urban managers hope smart city projects will contribute to the fast and sustainable long-term development of their cities and provinces.

So far, about 30 provincial governments or centrally run cities have formulated plans to implement smart city projects in their cities or provinces (Long 2021), including all five centrally run cities in Vietnam (Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Hai Phong, and Can Tho). Other provinces have described their plans to carry out smart city projects in their provinces, for example, Thai Binh, Binh Thuan, Ba Ria—Vung Tau, Tien Giang, Gia Lai, and Binh Duong.

7.4 Emerging Legal Issues

To turn a traditional city into a smart one requires huge effort and various tasks.Footnote 13 For example, to make all transactions between local governments and their residents run smoothly online, digital signatures by local officials must be applied. Additionally, online payment methods must be accepted by local authorities in the provision of public services, such as registration of property, transactions, or business. Also, digital local governments require advanced cybersecurity technologies, a responsive and effective cybersecurity management system, as well as suitable penalties for cyberattacks. International experience shows that to implement a project to transform a traditional city into a smart city, besides finding appropriate ICT solutions, several concerns raised by the public and city managers must be considered, such as (1) securing sufficient funding to start and sustain the project, (2) overcoming citizen and business concerns over privacy and data sharing, and (3) aligning multiple city departments and stakeholders (Gassmann et al. 2019, pp 52–53).

To meet this demand, Vietnam has taken some steps to improve its legal system. For example, the Law on Cyber Information Safety of 2015 has certain provisions on protection of personal information. This law (Article 16) states that agencies, organizations, and individuals that process personal information shall ensure cyber information security for the information they process. Organizations and individuals that process personal information shall develop and publicize their own measures to process and protect personal information. This law (Article 18) also empowers subjects of personal information to request personal information-processing organizations and individuals to update, alter, or cancel their personal information collected or stored by the latter or to stop providing such personal information to a third party. Violators of this law may be given a monetary fine up to 30 million VND (equal to 1,300 USD) for each violation (as stipulated in Articles 84, 85 and 86 of Decree 15/2020/NĐ-CP issued by the Vietnamese Government dated 3 February 2020).

In addition, on 7 March 2019, the Vietnamese government issued Resolution No. 17/NQ-CP regarding certain key tasks and measures of development of the electronic government for the period 2019–2020 with a vision toward 2025. On 8 April 2020, the Vietnamese government issued Decree No. 45/2020/ND-CP on Administrative Procedures by Electronic Means. On 9 April 2020, the Vietnamese Government issued Decree No. 47/2020/ND-CP on Management, Connection, and Share of Digital Data of Regulatory Agencies. The said documents provide legal foundations for operating electronic government and electronic transactions between citizens and governments.

Vietnam has adopted several important laws for cybersecurity, such as the Law on Cyber Information Safety of 2015 and the Law on Cybersecurity of 2018. The current Criminal Code of 2015 (as amended in 2017) has provided for certain legal foundations for handling cyberattacks. Article 285 of this Code provides for a maximum penalty of 7 years of imprisonment applicable to violators involved in “manufacturing, trading, exchanging, giving instruments, equipment, [or] software serving illegal purposes.” Article 286 of this code provides for a maximum penalty of 12 years of imprisonment applicable to violators involved in “spreading software programs harmful for computer networks, telecommunications networks or electronic devices.” Article 287 of this code provides for a maximum penalty of 12 years of imprisonment applicable to violators who cause “obstruction or disturbance of computer networks, telecommunications networks or electronic devices.” Article 288 of this Code provides for a maximum penalty of 7 years of imprisonment applicable to violators involved in “illegal provision or use of information on computer networks or telecommunications networks.” Article 289 of this code provides for a maximum penalty of 12 years of imprisonment applicable to violators involved in “illegal infiltration into the computer network, telecommunications network or electronic device of another person.” Article 290 of this code provides for a maximum penalty of 20 years of imprisonment applicable to violators involved in “appropriation of property using a computer network, telecommunications network or electronic device.” Article 291 of this code provides for a maximum penalty of seven years of imprisonment applicable to violators involved in “illegal collection, possession, exchanging, trading, publishing of information about bank accounts.”

Article 80 (11) of Decree 100/2019/ND-CP dated 30 December 2019 on Administrative Penalties for Road Traffic Offences and Rail Transport Offences stipulates that “persons entitled to impose penalties may utilize information and images recorded by sound and image recording devices provided by individuals and organizations to verify and detect the violations specified in this Decree. Minister of public securityFootnote 14 shall provide procedures for converting results collected from methods and devices other than professional methods and devices handed over by individuals and organizations into evidence to determine administrative violations in road and railway transport.” This provision is a legal basis for using images produced by CCTV systems as evidence to prove administrative violations (especially traffic offenses).

The central government has also implemented some steps to support the development of smart cities in Vietnam, especially to enhance the operation of e-government. On 9 December 2019, the National Public Service Portal (https://dichvucong.gov.vn/p/home/dvc-trang-chu.html), an electronic platform to connect the government with people and enterprises, was launched. This portal has certain key components, such as a national database on administrative procedures, one-time login and verification system to connect with ministerial and provincial-level public service portals, an e-payment system, integrated public services of ministries, agencies, and localities, and online supporting services. By August 2020, about 1000 administrative procedures could be handled online. The portal has connected with 18 ministries and agencies, all 60 provinces and centrally run cities, and eight banks and e-wallet service providers (Vietnam News 2020). By 30 December 2020, about 2700 online public services have been provided through the portal. The online payment service had been provided for 14 ministries and 54 out of the 63 provincial-level localities (Vietnam Pictorial 2020). It is expected that basic citizen services (such as birth and death registration and healthcare programs), revenue-earning services (such as property tax and licenses), development services (such as water supply and other utilities and building plan approval), efficiency improvement services (such as procurement and monitoring of projects), back-office improvements (such as accounting and professional management systems) can be fully addressed online in the future. By 30 December 2020, only about 39% of all administrative procedures were provided through the National Public Service Portal.

However, the legal framework for smart city projects in Vietnam is still in an early stage of development. The official criteria to designate an urban area as a “smart city” have not been clarified in any legal normative documents.Footnote 15 A system of national standards for the smartness of a city has not been fully developed.Footnote 16 There are no special legal normative documents designed for preparing budgets for smart city projects. Penalties applicable to violations of protection of personal information are quite lenient. The Decree on Electronic Identity and Verification is still under construction. Another Decree on Personal Data Protection is also still in the drafting stage. The drafting of a Law on Personal Data Protection has not yet been started. There are no legal normative documents for self-driving vehicles. Legal provisions for citizens to participate in decisions made by governments, especially in local governments through electronic means, are still absent in the Law on Local Government of 2015 (as amended in 2019). Smart cities always go hand in hand with an innovative economy, which requires effective systems and good protection of intellectual property. Smart cities also require a safe system of protection of personal data or privacy (especially regulations related to data protection and usage and open data). Smart cities should also be open to new experiments, such as drone usage and autonomous vehicles (Reichental 2020, pp 175–178), for which very few regulations in Vietnam are available.Footnote 17

Perhaps in coming years, governments can conduct a comprehensive evaluation of how much the implementation of smart city projects contribute to solving urban problems in Vietnam, such as overburdened social support systems, transportation congestion, poor public-transport options, inequality, poverty, crime, high cost of healthcare, environmental damage, poor air quality, and aging and broken infrastructure.

There is much room for improvement in the legal framework for smart cities in Vietnam in coming years, especially legal rules for ICT applications (especially digital signatures), urban governance of infrastructure, intellectual property rights, and protection of personal data (data rights law and privacy law).

7.5 Conclusion

The experience of Vietnam shows that promotion of smart city projects requires a huge effort from both the central government and local governments. Some local governments are quite active and interested in experimenting with smart city projects. However, a lack of a sound legal framework could be a hindrance for realizing this ambition. Based on the above analysis, perhaps the central government should play a bigger role in constructing a legal framework that is more favorable to implementation of smart city projects in local governments.