Friday, 16 September 2016

Bangkok: A Green Lung, and a City of Orchids?

Khun Sirinya Wattana Sukchai makes some very eloquent points in her Makkasan park article: Makkasan Snag is Good News.

The photographs supporting her article are eloquent too and make Makkasan look to have the potential to rival New York City’s Central Park – pressures to nibble away at the green space resisted even with 60M tourists each year - – or through my British eyes, London’s Hyde Park.

And why not: Bangkok as a world city, or just as with any city of 11M people, is desperately in need of parks and green spaces. It’s one of the world’s worst and certainly one of the worst in Asia.

According to the 2011 Asian Green City Index – a research project conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by Siemens – Bangkok ranked fifth, out of six Southeast Asian cities surveyed, in terms of green space per city dweller. The city’s green space per capita came in at a meagre 3.3 square meters.

Singapore has 66.2 square meters of green space per person amidst its skyscrapers, Kuala Lumpur has 43.9 square meters, Hanoi has 11.2 square meters and Manila 4.5 square meters.

Bangkok beats only Jakarta, which scores a measly 2.3 square meters per person.

As well, Bangkok’s amount of greenery is almost three times less than the international standard of nine square meters per person set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

~~Cities and quality of Life~~

Put simply, too many skyscrapers and concrete is unhealthy. The quality of life flowing from the design of such buildings is a separate point.

Both the reopening and cleaning of klongs and the Chaopraya River Walk would move Krungthep back to a more liveable city when it was billed as the Venice of the East. Friends remember the jungle encroaching upto Siam Square just 50 years ago.

And Phnom Penh is under similar overdevelopment town centre pressures with the rather bizarre draining and infill of Boeung Kak lake. Or the danger of losing the British colonial architecture of Yangon’s iconic waterfront for, of course, more identikit skyscrapers.

Does the SRT railway really need to sell the Makkasan land for yet more identikit skyscrapers and malls?

In a previous blog article I’ve mentioned the Colliers Property Reports forecasting a trend for the smaller-scale Community Malls. These would fit in with Khun Sirinya’s view of a museum (to Thai architecture?) or gallery at Makkasan.

Even an open air amphitheatre for plays or khon, or fashion catwalk, and a lido open-air swimming pool?

And with Thong Lor breathing new life into the hip bars and cafes and galleries, surely a Makkasan equivalent of NYC’s Greenwich Village, in the surrounding streets, would be of more use to Bangkok’s ambitious tourism targets?

Almost certainly it would be of more use than yet more half-empty hi-so mega-malls selling very few Chanel handbags?

Eventually the Skytrain expansion and electric cars and autonomous taxis and lorries will remove much of the traffic jams and choking air pollution from Bangkok. But the concrete canyons along Ploenchit will still block out much of the light and atmosphere of Bangkok without such counterbalances as Makkasan.

HCMC in Vietnam has made huge strides in cleaning and opening up the Saigon River in District 1 –literally an open sewer not so long ago - and ensuring the central parks are maintained and protection of heritage assets such as the French colonial architecture and Basson inner port.

Even in London the pollution cleanup has been so successful that there are now signs of salmon the whole length of the River Thames and as far downstream as Parliament.

London rail though (both above ground and the Tube) have been bedevilled by such urban black-holes of development so it feels a very familiar problem. Liverpool St station in the heart of the City was surrounded by derelict land, even WW2 bomb sites for decades.

~~East Kent city planning~~

And here in East Kent municipal incompetence, public apathy and rampant political and civil service corruption have left the iconic Dreamland amusement park and Pleasurama site, both Kent’s largest seafront developments, derelict for years through a mix of insurance fires and British Virgin islands tax haven mystery paydays.

But London does better than most cities with a ribbon of green space through the centre of the city allowing you to walk from Hyde Park through to Green Park and Buckingham Palace and Piccadilly Circus and onto the Thames Embankment river walks.

And even pocket parks such as the Embankment Gardens next to Parliament, with its statue of Chinese Gordon of Khartoum and Chin lions from Myanmar, and rows of hanging baskets of flowers on the lampposts.

Surely SRT could turn the land over to a Community Trust to develop plans for a park and preserve the railway houses in time for their 120th Anniversary next year?
With the expansion of ASEAN Rail hispeed rail and a Makkasan park, both SRT and the public would have cause for celebration.

And Bangkok a City of Orchids as per the headline? Why not a park and botanical garden, similar to Kew Gardens in London, to showcase Thailand’s orchids and orchid industries?

No unsightly greenhouses needed just row after row of flower displays as ay Keukenhof tulips in Netherlands.

And what a wonderful flourish to say give away to Bangkokians a fresh orchid every day?

The glib epithets of BKK as the Venice of the East or Saigon as the Paris of East fade away to so much old-fashioned and neo-colonial tourist brochure cliches compared to home-grown industries such as orchids.

Here in East Kent with the rare Kentish orchids as our District flower, we’d be keen to support that too.

And a park at Makkasan would be a Green Lung for all Bangkok, and a lifebuoy in an ocean of cement.

Tim Garbutt is director of Sincerity Advertising and PR agency, director of Surin Village School Charity with the first school built in Isaan and plans to build 1,000 schools each year, and is standing for MP in 2020 for better UK-Thailand and ASEAN activity. He likes orchids.


Misc points:

* July Updates:

* Working on a misc issues: Magellan Anniversary - Spain and LatAm, Almeria Universities links and Kent-Thai orchids

* Also Solomon Islands cruise ships

* Benelux strategy: Panasonic and Phillips - DNA bathroom mirror

* One Essex Court and Inns fraud: Grabiner, Glick, Hollingworth, Leavor etc

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