Can a city continue expanding forever? Not if there are no new ideas

Economy April 11, 2014 00:00

By Srettha Thavisin
President of

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Since we have been launching projects in many cities in various provinces, I have had a chance to travel to places I had never been to before and had not foreseen myself travelling to.

First, these visits were initial surveys, followed by a few more to assure our team that there was a market for us. Then it was to locate land plots and see if they had the potential to fit with our provisional ideas. After that came the progress survey, seeing if the sales office was getting established on schedule and marketing activities were being executed as planned.

It has been like this for me for the past 24 months or so. It has been quite exhausting but, looking back, those trips have opened my eyes to many issues that I had not encountered or felt concerned about before.

I must admit that before we expanded to other provinces I had rarely ventured beyond Bangkok and Hua Hin. But now I know there are provinces and cities that I had never imagined would be so expanded and so crowded. The information I had gathered before from newspapers was irrelevant to what I saw.

After witnessing ever-increasing populations in these towns and cities, we might assume that they will keep expanding to accommodate residents and visitors. Yes, most of the cities I have visited have grown at a certain level, some moderately and some exponentially. But can a city keep on growing and expanding, or is there a limit? Did the people who settled there years ago foresee the trends and plan the city accordingly? Or do even their current administrators foresee the coming changes, and have they started laying the foundations to handle the expansion?

Take Hua Hin for example. The town has been a holiday destination for me and my family since I was young. It usually took about six or seven hours to get there, driving from Bangkok, and it had to be a well-prepared trip for all, since there were no 7-Elevens along the way back then. We usually thought of Hua Hin as a long holiday destination to justify the long drive, not a weekend getaway as it is today.

Then the highway was expanded and trees lining it were cut down. Hotels and condominiums started popping up along the beach strip from the former Railway Hotel to Khao Takiab. Tourists started flocking to the town.

Where there are people, there are cars, but the town itself has only one main road separating the beachfront and the other side, connecting the market to beachfront plots, unlike Pattaya, which has a few roads running parallel to the main one. Hua Hin’s main road used to have one lane for each side. Now it has been expanded to accommodate two lanes of traffic each way, but it is still not enough.

If you have been to Hua Hin during big holiday periods you know what it is like. There are cars everywhere, and there is no way the town can grow bigger to accommodate them. Meanwhile we are seeing more hotels and condominiums opening on the opposite side of the beachfront, as land is getting very scarce and too expensive. This is because people still love Hua Hin for what it has been and what it still offers, and we all want a piece of it still.

So, coming back to my argument about the issue of whether a town can keep growing and expanding forever: For a town like Hua Hin, it is obvious that if we go on like this without any introduction of new ideas that people will embrace, it cannot. Seeing one big condominium development in the Hua Hin-Cha-am area that consists of more than 6,000 units currently under construction makes me wonder what will happen when it is complete. Will there be 6,000 more cars travelling to the town during Songkran period, and all going for dinner in Hua Hin Night Market at the same time?

Not only for Hua Hin but for other holiday hot spots, one of the ideas that I think might alleviate the pain for locals and visitors is another way for holiday lovers to get there without driving, as well as putting in place a more efficient city public-transport system. What if we had an updated and upgraded railway system that punctually commuted between Bangkok and Hua Hin or Pattaya? Would people still drive their own cars there if there were a tram or something that could take them around the town?

As I said earlier, and similar to many business ventures, a town cannot keep on growing unless new ideas are embraced by the people who live there, run it, and have a say in how cities as well as country are being developed and governed.