Open-air Bangkok

The concept of a shared green lawn for the public is relatively new. The first free public park in the west was Liverpool’s Birkenhead Park, which opened in 1847- an idea devised by a Liverpool Councilor who recognised the need for an open green space for the city’s increasing population¹. The public park’s role is paramount for urban dwellers that will make up 70% of the world’s population by 2050. It is the essence of democratic civil society: people of any socio-economic status, age and ethnicity can gather, participate in civic events, improve their physical and mental health, and ensure sustainable urban growth.

In Bangkok, green patches are hard to come by in typical neighbourhoods. Most parcels of land have already been taken up to prioritize car-based economic development. Concrete masses, parking lots, roads and elevated rail system (BTS) occupy a chunk of one’s view. With 3 square metres of green space per person (below Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Mumbai, but above Jakarta)², it is not surprising the locals spend their leisure time indoors and out in the streets.

Of course, one could always drive or take public transport to get to a park. Lumphini Park, Bangkok’s first public park, was granted by King Rama VI in 1925. Having been used as a Japanese military camp during the World War II and as a beauty contest venue after, the park offers an interesting historical background as well as a large pond with row boats, playgrounds and bike paths on 58 hectares of land. It is also one of few public spaces where people can gather and voice (or sing and dance) their opinions. (Note: During the 2010 political protests that killed almost 100 civilians, soldiers and journalists, political assemblies of more than 5 people were prohibited – more on politically charged public squares later.) Parks don’t need to be 58 hectares, or even 1. Bangkok could start with a network of small, accessible green patches where one can easily walk to, to sit on a bench, meet a friend, watch people, have lunch and remember what nature looks like.

¹ http://www.liverpoolparks.org/red/docs/parks/birkenhead_park/index.html
² Economist Intelligence Unit. (2011). Asian Green City Index. Munich: Siemens AG.

photo
Walking the Streets of Thailand.
Large hotel developments typically demarcate their property lines with nondescript concrete walls.
Large hotel developments typically demarcate their property lines with nondescript concrete walls.
The main road at Phloen Chit BTS station is one of the better ones, with some landscaping and continuous footpaths.
The main road at Phloen Chit BTS station is one of the better ones, with some landscaping and continuous footpaths.
Zebra crossings are rare and continuous ones are precious.
Pedestrian crossings are rare and continuous ones are precious.
A tall abandoned apartment at Saphan Taksin is now used as a billboard.
A tall abandoned apartment at Saphan Taksin is now used as a billboard.
Lumpini Park is a well-landscaped and attractive place to visit, exercise, play and relax.
Lumpini Park is a well-landscaped and attractive place to visit, exercise, play and relax.
Lumpini Park  anti-government protest.
Lumpini Park anti-government protest consists of singing and dancing.
Lumpini Park's food stalls.
Lumpini Park’s food stalls are set up for the day.
Lumpini park is one of the few public spaces in the neighbourhood.
Protesters and passersby sit down for a quick lunch.
Houses along the  Chao Phraya need an upgrade.
There is no riverwalk along the Chao Phraya river. Both sides are fully occupied with housing and hotels.
Fishing at the Chao Phraya
Fishing at the Chao Phraya- bring your own ladder.
Wat Arun
Wat Arun is one of the few remaining public spaces along the river.

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