Without a plan a city Sinks
We need to act now to ensure Bangkok becomes a cleaner, cooler place to live
The hot and dry season is now over. With storms coming every other evening, Bangkokians will have to tolerate not only a hot and humid climate, but also terrible traffic caused by temporary street flooding.
We hear that many areas in Bangkok are collapsing due to the disappearance of underground water. What is wrong with our city? It continues to flood, but the water seems to go directly into the Gulf of Thailand, without being absorbed underground. It's because the ground is covered with concrete. Green areas that allow water to seep underground are disappearing from the city.
When it rains, it is impossible to walk on the footpaths. They are too narrow for such a crowded city as Bangkok, and they are occupied by everybody except those for whom they are built. The land in Bangkok is expensive, therefore it's cheapest to visit public spaces, and these are taken up by people selling things.
Furthermore, footpaths are built for people to walk on, but why isn't enough sun shading and rain protection provided, even though Bangkok is hot and humid all year round? While it rains, pedestrians can't walk on footpaths and they inevitably need taxis.
Unfortunately, there is no dedicated space for taxi stops other than the left lane of the road. It seems to be a catch-22 situation that causes traffic problems in Bangkok, and one that isn't immediately solvable.
Everything is interconnected to create environmental problems in Bangkok. It is difficult to resolve the issues without the integration of those responsible. Why didn't we use ideas and knowledge from other people when we built?
When troubles occur, we wake up and start looking for help from others. Last week, I was invited to join a focus group meeting held by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) in an attempt to gather ideas from stakeholders on how to shape-up Bangkok by 2032. By that year I will be retired and leaving Bangkok. It is late, but better than never.
In the meeting, I asked the BMA to find out why the small island of Singapore is named the Garden City. It is not because Singaporeans are good at growing trees. It is all about city planning. Singapore is a small country compared to Thailand, but with its efficient use of city planning regulations, Singapore manages to have a very high ratio of green area per head of population. It contains 66m2 of green area per person, whereas Bangkok only has 3m2 per person. Moreover, we have never heard of flooding in Singapore. Last April I went to Singapore to visit some of its green buildings. I left Bangkok while it was 38C and landed in Singapore to find that it was a lot cooler.
Due to its location on the equator, we would expect it to be hotter and more humid, however, with its abundance of green areas and large trees, the city is cooled to a more liveable temperature. This is thanks to good city planning.
Singapore's green building movement is very advanced. It is not just about selling green products like in other countries, including ours. Singapore has spent years building the large Marina Bay water reservoir for use within the city centre. When you have such limited space and water resources that you have to fill the sea to create land, you must utilise it very carefully.
Existing green areas are preserved like a precious gift from nature. The rivers and water must be kept as clean as possible. Singaporeans are not only trying to conserve water, but they are also keeping it clean by not dumping too much waste water and chemicals into their waterways. Land, trees and water conservation are the core concepts of green buildings, aside from energy efficiency and green materials.
Thailand, like other developing countries, spends too much time and money building cheap, poor and inefficient infrastructure. Of course, Thailand is not rich, but it is also not rich enough to use cheap materials that may cause more trouble in the future.
Green spaces, trees, wider footpaths and large-capacity sewer systems together with more time to plan and design are what we have to invest in if we want to shape-up Bangkok over the next 20 years. Don't just build something without any plan to maintain it. Good cities need good plans, and if we want a greener place to live, why don't we put a green plan into our city planning code? Don't wait. Act now, before the year 2032 comes and we haven't done anything.
By Dr Atch Sreshthaputra
07 June 2012