The government's "priority is compromise and guaranteeing the best benefit for the people, and eviction is the last resort," he said.
State media have reported that a majority of the 670,000 petitions the government has received since 2008 related to cases in which officials seized land for infrastructure and economic development projects but paid significantly less than the market rate for the plots. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung was quoted in early May as saying that if 528 such pending cases are not properly resolved, they could sow "seeds of political and social instability."
Organized resistance is rare in Vietnam, where a powerful government controls the media, squashes protests and imprisons political dissidents. Analysts say that unlike neighboring China, where the government razes urban neighborhoods for infrastructure projects over local opposition, Vietnam is very reluctant to seize land from city dwellers because it doesn't want to spark social unrest and risk threatening the status quo.
Officials in Vietnam's two major cities "can never finish a ring road," said Nguyen Xuan Thanh, director of public policy programs at the U.S.-funded Fulbright Economics Teaching Program in Ho Chi Minh City.
Unlike China, Vietnam "tolerates inefficiency in exchange for stability," he said. "Efforts to redevelop existing urban areas are very likely to fail."
Tai, the construction foreman, lives a few hundred meters from where the "most expensive road in the world" stops abruptly at a row of skinny houses. The success of other residents in blocking that road project has empowered landowners here and in other Hanoi neighborhoods to hold out for higher compensation rates — further delaying major infrastructure development.
Since 2008 the official compensation offer has crept from 11.2 million dong ($538) to nearly $30 million dong ($1,440) per square meter for many of Tai's neighbors, but those who cannot produce official titles have been offered just 50,000 dong ($2.50) per square meter.
Local officials plan to raze the neighborhood and extend the inner ring road later this year, "but it's unlikely they'll meet that target," Tai, 48, said. The officials could not be reached for comment.
A nascent $5 billion metro system that's scheduled to begin opening in 2015 will ease the city's traffic burden to a degree, said Robert Valkovic, a transport specialist at the Asian Development Bank in Hanoi. But he added it will be difficult for city officials to discourage car ownership and develop a coordinated road network.
"If you start building roads," he said, "then you have to start knocking down neighborhoods."
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