To breathe in a park or yet another mall?
The park campaign for the Makkasan area has profound implications for what we as a society want for our futureFinancially speaking, the choice is between a lot of money and much less money. Environmentally speaking, it's between a lot of trees that will generate a lot more clean air, or yet another shopping complex for Bangkok. Which is needed more for the vast plot of land at Makkasan, where the financial and environmentalist forces are having their all-too-familiar showdown? The answer depends on whom you talk to.
Ask the landowners and developers, and they will challenge anyone who wants to plant trees where billions of baht can be earned if buildings sprout there instead. Ask the environmentalist groups, and they will point out how many shopping malls - mega-big, big or small - the city already has. In the end your heart might say clean air is more important - maybe not now, but in the long run - but your head might be forced to accept it if another mall springs up at Makkasan.
Capitalism versus environmentalism is always a battle between "now" and "the future". The disadvantage of the latter is obvious: the future hasn't happened yet. You can paint a catastrophic picture, but a lot of people still have to see something real in order to believe it. Money, on the other hand, is tangible and hopefully it's there for the taking. With people still able to breathe, let's take the money and worry about the future later.
That has been the way for so long. We keep hearing stories about big trees giving way to manmade structures. We know who emerges as the winner most of the time. But we've never heard stories of buildings being dismantled so that parks can grow, have we?
It's the triumph of now over the future. If the air gets poisonous enough for doubters to "see" it, perhaps the tables can be turned. But at present, most people would rather keep on skating, not bothering to worry about how thin the ice is.
A park at Makkasan could help a lot, environmentalists and other activists say. A Facebook page has been created to explain why they want it there, and the reasons are well researched and well thought-out. First of all, it's a huge undeveloped area in the middle of the city, the state's "last massive area of greenery that, constitutionally, must benefit the people". The campaign must begin now, "or we will never have a similar opportunity" to turn it into a "lung" that helps Bangkok breathe. But the mega-mall plan is gathering strength, the environmentalists say.
That the area is state property is a strong argument for the park advocates. However, that does little for their chances of winning. The forces of commercialism are everywhere, and the environmentalists know better than most that the tipping point - where money overcomes the air we breathe - is normally engineered by the private sector. Moreover, in the game of environmental preservation, anyone can be a hypocrite. Big countries damaging the atmosphere with their industries always invoke "necessity" and lay great burden on the shoulders of poorer, less-equipped nations.
It will be interesting to see if the Makkasan ecologists can break through the conventional barriers. The campaigners have won vague promises from key Bangkok gubernatorial candidates to preserve parts of the area for trees. The social media have become strong campaign tools that should be able to generate a massive number of pro-park signatures.
History shows us that the voices for "the future" are often loud but ineffective, whereas those for "now" are barely heard - and yet they prevail most of the time. Will Makkasan provide a glimpse of change? As far as environmental fights are concerned, whether the answer is yes or no doesn't matter much, because the campaigning will go on regardless. Perhaps the tide will turn in their favour when "the future" is nearer to "now", although by then, time might not be on anyone's side.