Preparing Bangkok for the future

Economy March 27, 2015 01:00

By Prin Jhearmaneechotchai

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Our beloved Bangkok will be celebrating its 250th birthday in 2032. When that anniversary arrives, how will we present ourselves to the world? Will we still be as we are today, a city with complex urban and social challenges that become more unworkable an

We could follow France’s example. Its capital Paris, in her modernisation, has remained beautiful, well-run, and efficient. Her future, however, will not be left entirely to chance. Paris has a long-term strategic plan that aims to secure her position as a global centre of culture and finance in the next 40 years. In 2007, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy invited highly esteemed French and international architects to participate in “Grand Paris,” a large-scale urban initiative to envision and implement a sustainable and vibrant future for the Paris metropolitan region. The project’s goals are to raise quality of life, reduce social inequity and promote social development, stimulate economic growth, and enhance Paris’s competitiveness among other global cities. Eight years later, the programme and its various projects are still proceeding as planned.

Although Bangkok, like Paris, is also engaged in large-scale development projects, it is only now that we Bangkok residents realise the advantages of a unified urban planning framework. For example, an initiative to expand and improve mass transit infrastructure, which affects the entire city, should be integrated seamlessly into the public- and private-sector development plans active in the localities through which those routes pass.

Mass transit will be the prime agent of Bangkok’s physical change.

In the Rattanakosin period (beginning 1782), Bangkok was a water-based city defined by its canals and waterways. Between then and the present day, Bangkok’s cityscape transformed into an automobile-oriented city with some of the world’s worst levels of traffic congestion and fossil fuel expenditure.

A strategic opportunity has arrived for Bangkok’s residents. Its physical fabric is poised for great change. The development of rail-based public transportation systems and the introduction of Skytrains and subways will alter Bangkok into a multi-level city physically delineated by the infrastructure of these systems.

Rail transit systems will accelerate the transformation of Bangkok’s city form. New routes will connect neighbourhoods once isolated from the transportation networks and will increase land value, raise demand for property, and attract investment. We can already observe the concentration around BTS Skytrain or subway stations of private sector real estate projects such as residential condominiums, department stores, and office buildings, which take advantage of proximity to the connected transportation network. The impact of rail transit systems will be as revolutionary and as complete as the transition from canals to roads.

There is concern that development of the Skytrain and other transit systems are poorly coordinated, the effects of which can be seen clearly in the planning of station properties and in the awkward connecting itineraries between one network and another. An attitude of “to each his own” seems to govern the relationship between state and private sector development agencies. Most critically, there has been very little integration of the proliferating transit systems into the larger Bangkok metropolitan planning framework.

We have the opportunity to insist on responsible integration of the rapidly expanding public transportation networks into Bangkok’s strategic urban plan. District revitalisation projects such as the Yannawa Riverfront and the Ratchadamnoen Central Corridor provide urban architects and planners with immediate contexts to seize and exercise this opportunity.

Prin Jhearmaneechotchai, Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University