11 July 2024

In order to make Bangkok a livable city for everyone, experts are calling for a rethink of urban planning by prioritizing a holistic development strategy for each district based on local people’s needs and the urban comprehensive carrying capacity of the area.

Private sector-driven development

As a mega-city with more than 11 million inhabitants, Bangkok is known for its congested streets and bustling urban areas. The opening of a new shopping mall in the busy Phrom Phong area at the start of December has virtually paralysed a key section of Sukhumvit Road, triggering a public outcry on social media.

With more major development projects, such as large shopping malls and high-rise condominiums, continuing to sprout in the already densely populated central business districts, the city is suffering from overcrowding. Public disputes as a result of these mega-projects are also on the rise.

Yossapon Boonsom, managing director at Shma Company Limited and a prominent Thai landscape architect, pointed out that these problems are the result of unplanned development of the city, as until recently Bangkok had developed without proper urban planning.

Blinkered approach

Despite the high density of population, Bangkok is a classic modern-world paradox: on one side it offers vast economic opportunities and prosperity of the city, but on the other hand it also makes the city life less desirable. While Bangkok’s cityscape is filled with many skyscrapers and gleaming high-rise buildings, there are only a few public spaces for the citizens with slums and abandoned properties hidden here and there around the city.

“Even though Bangkok has an official city plan on urban development, it is the private sector that is engaged in building construction and project investment, without concern for public issues. This has led to the imbalanced development of the city, as these private development projects are often concealed behind high walls, while the neighborhood remains undeveloped,” Yossapon said.

“Since these projects are detached from the surrounding communities, they often overlook the problems the local people face, such as worsening traffic jams, pollution and waste problems, and gentrification of the neighborhood, which inevitably affect lives and livelihoods of the local people.”

Localized strategy needed

He explained that these big development projects are legally approved according to the city plan and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), but the consideration in approving these projects is based solely on the project’s details without taking into account the impact on the local area and the concerns of the local people.

“Therefore, instead of relying only on the city plan to guide the development of our capital, we need to design local development strategies for every district of Bangkok so as to promote cohesive urban development based on the distinct socioeconomic make-up and the urban comprehensive carrying capacity of each district,” he suggested.

He also stressed that these local development strategies should take the needs and concerns of the local people into consideration and promote inclusive public participation so that every stakeholder in the district got a say in the planning and development of their locality.

“It is important to encourage the local people, the private sector, and the authorities to work together on the development of their home district, to ensure that everyone will benefit from the development,” Yossapon said.

Large private investments are not problematic by themselves. They become problematic only when they are developed without appropriate planning, he said. It is fine for the city to have these high-density development projects, but they must be confined to a designated zone that already has sufficient infrastructure in place to sustain these large projects.

“Right now, the authorities are undertaking city development in the wrong way. They will develop infrastructure after these mega-projects have exceeded the capacity of local infrastructures. They should do the opposite and prepare the zone with enough infrastructure to facilitate these large projects first before giving them the green light,” he suggested.

Enforcing the city plan

Meanwhile, Assoc Prof Panit Pujinda, the head of Chulalongkorn University’s Center of Excellence in Urban Strategies, offered a different viewpoint on this problem. He emphasized that it was not the lack of appropriate zoning for high-density development that caused the congestion and overloading of urban carrying capacity. He blamed the failure of relevant official agencies to provide and maintain sufficient public infrastructure as per the requirements of each zone within the city plan.

“I do not think that this is the fault of the project developer. The project in question must have gone through the approval process to make sure that the construction is in line with the regulations under the city plan, so it is clear that the project is legally built,” Panit said.

“It was also not a flaw in Bangkok’s city plan, which is the master law that guides the development of the city in which all stakeholders, including local citizens and relevant agencies, agreed on in the public hearing before it was enforced.”

The Bangkok city plan has been elaborately laid out in accordance with the concurrent urban dynamics and strategic plans for urban development. He said there should be no problem when big projects are built within the designated zones for high-density development, as these zones should have sufficient public utilities and infrastructures to maintain adequate urban carrying capacity for accommodating these development projects.

Officials failing in their duties

“It is clear that big development projects have led to the increasing urban congestion and conflicts with local communities. It is also clear that the relevant official agencies that oversee the development and maintenance of public utilities and infrastructures are not performing their duties very well, because the infrastructure is insufficient to facilitate high-density development,” he said.

Panit highlighted that it was critical for all related official agencies to provide necessary infrastructure, such as traffic accessibility, public transportation, waste management and other essential utilities that can sufficiently sustain the growth of the city.

Ensuring this was important for Bangkok to be developed appropriately as per the carefully planned urban development strategies within the city plan.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk