As one of the original researchers in MIT's Sidewalk Laboratory, I traveled to Ho Chi Minh City to map the use of one of the most mundane and important public spaces: sidewalks. Over countless bowls of tofu and banh xeo, our team interviewed 100+ Vietnamese street vendors to understand the role of informal spaces within city culture and how they were being threatened.
Through data analysis, documentary photography, and critical cartography, we sought to shape planning policies. Amidst government pressure to remove these messy, informal sidewalk spaces, we advocated for their preservation by highlighting migration patterns and proposing a public path (inspired by Boston's Freedom Trail) to Ho Chi Minh City's Department of Planning. Led by Professor Annette Kim, the research will be published in the book "Sidewalk City: Re-Mapping Public Space in Ho Chi Minh City" in 2014.
Out of this field research in Vietnam also emerged my senior thesis, "SHOP / VEND: Reconciling the Future of (in)formal Exchange in Saigon’s Public Market." At the heart of downtown Ho Chi Minh City, the bustling Ben Thanh market is where vendors have come to sell their wares since the 17th century, and where throngs of locals and tourists alike come to buy, eat, and engage in general exchange and consumption. With four solid walls erected that define the interior and exterior of the Ben Thanh Market, the existing French colonial building acts as a fortress -- a spatial construct of exclusion that prevents the potentially fruitful intermingling and reconciliation of the formal shop owner with the informal street vendor.
Rethinking boundaries, edges, and cultural notions of space, this design research thesis analyzed the relationships between body, street, and urban layout as the inspirational instigators for bringing together the formal and the informal.