The Sidewalk City project includes a book published by the University of Chicago Press in 2015. It has also involved proposing a pilot tourist pedestrian path project, approved by the Ho Chi Minh City government in 2011, that would incorporate street vendors into the city plans. However, with the subsequent policy shift to clear sidewalks of vendors, SLAB then mounted an art exhibition in 2014 that became a national discussion piece introducing new narratives about the role of vendors in the city and the appropriate use of public space.

The roots of this project began in 1999 when Annette M. Kim was living in Ho Chi Minh City with a local household as a Fulbright scholar. The rhythms and experiences of the city’s remarkable sidewalk life left its indelible mark on her. So, in 2010 she returned with a team of MIT students and paired them with Vietnamese students to help her study the sidewalks of two neighborhoods, historic Saigon and Cholon. She developed methods of spatial ethnography in order to overcome habitual seeing and to analyze space as both a physical and social phenomenon.  Her team recorded both the spatial patterns and the social relations of over 6,490 people out on the sidewalk engaged in activities beyond pedestrianism. Data collected included field surveys and participant observations coded into GIS, interviews with over 270 vendors as well as police and other residents, photography, and videography.

With this wealth of mixed-media data, SLAB as a research group formed to experiment with alternative maps and visualizations. The book features a Critical Cartography Primer that develops a visual argument for how we can create new knowledge with different visual systems and cartographic logics.

The slideshow below shows photographs taken during our 2010 fieldwork. These photographs were shown in our HCMC exhibition and then sold to be permanently exhibited at the American Center, part of the US consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. The proceeds were donated to a local charity.

This project was made possible with funding from MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, MIT’s MISTI program.
The original 2010 MIT fieldwork team included: Tiffany Chu, Holly Bellocchio Durso, Minh Huynh-Le, and Courtney Sung. Vietnamese team members included: Lê Nguyễn Hương Giang, Hà Nguyễn Tuyết Hường, Đinh Xuân Thủy, Nguyễn Thị Minh Châu, Nguyễn Hoàng Kim Khánh.
Other SLAB team members helping to develop our maps included: Jonathan Crisman, Alison Sheppard, Bernard Harkless, Remi Hamilton, George Beane, Qianqian Zhang, Lou Thomas, Estelle Yoon, Kristal Peters, Joy Chen, James McKinney, Kristin Au.