Bangkok, one of the largest sprawling metropolitan of the world,according to some estimates the next five years are going to see Bangkok’s legendary traffic come to a complete halt. Because of the tax rebate on cars, the additional numbers of vehicles on the roads are going to make a bad situation turn into a nightmare for the residents of this city.
Bangkok, house to some 11 million inhabitants, is a city that basically grew with little planning until 1992, when it finally had its proper zoning plan. Before that, industrial plants, residences, schools and entertainment zones all cohabited together in the same neighbourhoods with little concern for pollution of air, water, noise …etc.
After the introduction of the new city plan, things started changing. Industries were relocated to specifically designated regions, and other land uses were redefined, zoned, and regulated. Has this resulted in a better city, better quality of living for the residents? I am sure there are many answers to this question. But what has been and still remains the city biggest ill, is the traffic congestion. If you are a Bangkok resident, I am sure that every decision of your daily life; where to work, where to study, where to shop and even where to go for entertainment, is dictated by the traffic conditions.
Poor city planning combined with the lack of mass transit implementation policies have created car dependent communities in an ever sprawling urban fabric. People are pushed farther from the city because of overcrowding and exorbitant real estate prices, and the ones who are resisting suburban life are forced into shoe box sized condominiums or like someone dubbed it, homes for the Hobbits.
These development patterns have immense consequences;
The Moo Baan sprawl: The environmental impacts of this phenomenon are irreversible. The sprawl leads to loss of green areas, loss of agriculture land, heat islands effects and pollution to name but a few of the consequences. The other disturbing issue is the direct sociological impacts on the family structure, the quality of life and the fabric of the society. The housing estates mushrooming around Bangkok are forming some kind of dormitory towns. There are no statutory requirements for provision of commercial facilities, schools, health centres, jobs etc to create real neighbourhoods and communities. These places are not conducive to social interactions and are absolutely car dependent.
The Mass transit condominiums:
They are growing at a faster rate than the Moo Baans and are causing even more problems. Plots of land that previously housed one or two residential units, are now home to condominiums with 600 to 800 units. The number of additional cars that are added to the roads with each development is about 100 fold. The density per sq.m. in Sukhumvit area has increased by at least 60-70%. That begs the question; Has the infrastructure, i.e. water, waste water, electricity supply, solid waste disposal etc. increased to accommodate the huge demand? Has the number of public parks, playgrounds, community facilities increased? No.
Seeing Bangkok growing and spreading over the last 25 years, with little concern for the environment and the quality of life of its residents makes me wonder;
Should our policy makers, governors and planners ask themselves, what kind of city will make residents live enjoyable lives, thrive economically and grow sustainably? What kind of city are we leaving behind to our future generations? There are numerous cities in the world that have managed to achieve this balance. One needs not start re-inventing the world of planning. One just needs to have the vision, the political will and the integrity to make it work.
And lastly, I’d love to share this saying that, as a Bangkok resident, make me laugh and cry at the same time. “Let’s have a moment of silence for those who are stuck in traffic on their way to the gym to ride stationary bicycles”.