Today people across the city go to the polls to endorse one of the more than 20 Bangkok governor candidates, making their choices based on a wide variety of criteria. But one thing almost all voters would probably agree on is that they don't really expect many of the promises made in the long election campaign to become reality. At the top of the list of perennial promises is to make Bangkok "green". A lack of continuity is partly to blame, whether within the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration or the national government. Whenever a new team enters it takes time to take concrete steps to implement green schemes. Ambitious projects are usually either forgotten or never get much past the blueprints. Meanwhile, projects started under the old administration usually either languish or are dismantled altogether.
There are some quick and easy ways to make Bangkok greener, at least on the surface. For example, promote green spaces on the tops of buildings and above canals, using planters that don't impede water flow and allow for maintenance. To reduce labour costs, this could be done with hardy species such as bougainvillea that require little care.
But in order to make the city significantly greener, with all the health and aesthetic benefits go along with it, it is necessary to go deeper and make make urban planning a priority. This means more large parks and better zoning regulations; again, this requires a consistent focus from one administration to the next.
Compared to most major cities Bangkok has a small amount of green space per capita, and clearly the city needs more parks. In areas undergoing rapid expansion such as the Rama III corridor adjacent to the Chao Phraya River it is important to set aside land for parks before it is too late, and not let it all be taken over by high-rise developments. In 1987, there was a very welcome addition to the city's park system of riverside property adjacent to the Rama IX bridge, and there is also a large green area with a jogging track and other sports facilities beneath the King Bhumibol Bridge, which was opened to traffic in 2006. At least one or two more large parks should be reserved along this stretch of river, and the proposed construction of an elevated walkway along the river, to provide flood protection as well as for its recreational value, should be given serious consideration.
Further upstream, the greening of Klong Toey Port, first proposed by the Democrats in the run-up to the last general election in April 2011, should also be given serious consideration, even though this would be a massive and expensive undertaking. The original plan called for shipping freight traffic to be diverted to the Laem Chabang port in Chon Buri, freeing up about 1,000 rai of public land to serve as a lung for the city and a recreational area. At the time it was greeted with widespread derision and charges that it was a pretty pie-in-the-sky dream the party was offering to voters in a last-minute attempt to stave off inevitable defeat. While that may have had some truth to it, such a project does have obvious merits. Besides the tremendous benefits of such a large green space near the city centre, it would also take a huge number of freight trucks off the roads and relieve traffic. With the statement from Transport Minister Jarupong Ruangsuwan last December that the ministry is in the midst of drawing up a blueprint for revamping Klong Toey, there was reason for optimism that Bangkok will yet take this big leap forward. However, few details have come to light as yet and it's not known how much priority is being given to converting space to green areas.
At the time of the original proposal in 2011 critics said it would take 15-20 years to develop infrastructure at Laem Chabang. It seems doubtful it would take that long if the project were given priority. The Laem Chabang port is already able to accommodate the US Navy's seventh fleet when it comes to call, and the State Railway of Thailand operates a 122km rail line connecting Laem Chabang Port to an inland container depot at Lat Krabang.
A thornier problem is accommodating the residents living in the lowlands around the Klong Toey port, commonly known as Bangkok's biggest slum. Clearly any relocation of the residents should result in an improvement of their living conditions, just as the overall emphasis of the project should be to genuinely improve the city's environment rather than simply to make way for high-end development projects.