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Sidewalk City

Remapping Public Space in Ho Chi Minh City

For most, the term “public space” conjures up images of large, open areas: community centers for meetings and social events; the ancient Greek agora for political debates; green parks for festivals and recreation. In many of the world’s major cities, however, public spaces like these are not a part of the everyday lives of the public. Rather, business and social lives have always been conducted along main roads and sidewalks. With increasing urban growth and density, primarily from migration and immigration, rights to the sidewalk are being hotly contested among pedestrians, street vendors, property owners, tourists, and governments around the world.

With Sidewalk City, Annette Miae Kim provides the first multidisciplinary case study of sidewalks in a distinctive geographical area. She focuses on Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, a rapidly growing and evolving city that throughout its history, her multicultural residents have built up alternative legitimacies and norms about how the sidewalk should be used. Based on fieldwork over 15 years, Kim developed methods of spatial ethnography to overcome habitual seeing, and recorded both the spatial patterns and the social relations of how the city’s vibrant sidewalk life is practiced.

In Sidewalk City, she transforms this data into an imaginative array of maps, progressing through a primer of critical cartography, to unveil new insights about the importance and potential of this quotidian public space. This richly illustrated and fascinating study of Ho Chi Minh City’s sidewalks shows us that it is possible to have an aesthetic sidewalk life that is inclusive of multiple publics’ aspirations and livelihoods, particularly those of migrant vendors.

264 pages | 32 color plates, 14 halftones, 7 line drawings | 9 x 8 1/2 | © 2015

Asian Studies: Southeast Asia and Australia

Geography: Cartography, Cultural and Historical Geography, Urban Geography

Law and Legal Studies: General Legal Studies


“This just-published work flips our usual understanding of public space—large communal swaths of green in the middle of a cityscape—and focuses on its most humble incarnation: the sidewalk. Sidewalk design isn’t going to win any prizes. In fact, it is scarcely noticed. But more than ever, Kim suggests, in places of rising urban density, this is where people meet, loiter, exchange information, sell wares and stage neighborhood festivals. Sidewalks are also a kind of urban nervous system, wiring connective paths from one corner of the city to another. But this sort of public space also bumps up against property rights. Who ultimately has power over this public-private space? The beautifully designed Sidewalk City examines how this tension is negotiated day to day in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City.”

Next City

"The expose of Kim's proceedings with spatial ethnography and critical cartography can serve as an example and a manual for other researchers who are fascinated by aspects of Asian urban societies. They should certainly read her book, enjoy her careful way of presenting her research in an excellently brought out book."

New Books Asia

"Sidewalk City is devoted to a part of the urban landscape that is often overlooked. The book details the multiple benefits of seeing a sidewalk as a mixed-use public space.
Kim is interested in calling not just for new analytical lenses, but for ways to apply them to legitimizing sidewalk life. The example inSidewalk City is of the tourist path and map she and her colleagues proposed to local officials. Their idea was to use HCMC’s inevitable tourism to guide recognition of sidewalk street vendors and promote pedestrianism. This tourist pedestrian path is an example of Kim’s approach to scholarship: one that is inseparable from advocacy."

Environment and Urbanization

"Using critical cartography and spatial ethnography, Sidewalk City brings to life an unwritten realm of claims and practices. Kim brilliantly persuades us with her theoretical framework which identifies a particular type of rights not associated with shared sidewalks: property rights negotiated in public space."

Saskia Sassen, author of Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy

Sidewalk City is visually powerful, socially explanatory, and politically revealing. Kim delivers an exceptionally rich contribution to the emerging domain of urban humanities with her multilayered close analysis of a seemingly prosaic socio-spatial environment—the sidewalks of Ho Chi Minh City. As such, she provides as much creative clarity to those interested in photography, multi-media art, and critical cartography as she does to those who care about economic development, property rights, urban planning, public policy, and ethnographic method.”

Lawrence J. Vale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, author of Purging the Poorest

“Opening with an exciting ethnography of sidewalk life in Ho Chi Minh City, Kim goes on to unfurl a revolutionary collection of mapping subjects, techniques, and strategies that let her, as she says, map the unmapped. As Kevin Lynch did in 1960, Kim inaugurates an utterly new fork in the history of mapmaking, enabling her to return at book’s end to the sidewalk both reconsidered and reimagined. Sidewalk City is essential reading!”

Denis Wood, author of Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas

Sidewalk City is an important book which takes a big step forward in our understanding of that key public space—the sidewalk. Mixing urban theory, ethnography, observation, and innovative mapping, Kim has produced a new conceptual and representational paradigm. Both scholarly and readable, Sidewalk City should interest anyone who thinks about cities, public spaces, and people.”

Margaret Crawford, UC Berkeley

"Sidewalk City takes the reader on a journey throughout the author’s framework analysis of public spaces—namely the sidewalk—from a historical and geopolitical contextualization, to a critical analysis of the results, to visual narratives and further applications. . . . As a final verdict, this book may become an essential reading when analyzing public spaces. Every chapter of the book introduces an important step for their analysis, whether the subject is sidewalk living areas or public spaces at another scale."

Cartographic Perspectives


International Convention of Asia Scholars: ICAS Book Prize

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