I'm sure there are people out there who aren't aware that there is a 500-rai tract of lush green land sitting smack in the middle of the city.
You might even drive past it, or around it, every day, but it has always eluded you.
It's the big plot of land belonging to the State Railway of Thailand in Makkasan, bordered on one side by the Airport Link, and on the other by the Chaturatis Road that connects Si Ayutthaya Road with Rama IX Road.
No one paid any attention to it until recently when the SRT announced it was considering developing the land into a commercial complex to boost its books, which always stand in the red. I do sympathise with them in a way, having to give away all those free train rides as part of the government's populist policies. As far as state enterprises go, the SRT incurs the highest losses _ over 7 billion baht a year, equivalent to 50% of its annual budget.
But suddenly there looms the spectre of yet another commercial complex in Bangkok. The SRT governor was quoted as saying that he envisions a "new Bangkok landmark where people can use the facilities for important events to be seen around the world", citing the New Year's countdown and Songkran festivities among these. He also expects the complex to dwarf the nearby CentralWorld.
According to the SRT governor, some 200 rai of the plot will be used for building new roads, and the remaining 300 rai or so will be for commercial development. He does say, however, that 15-20% of this _ approximately 60 rai _ will be landscaped as green areas.
He makes it sound so generous I could cry.
The way other cities calculate a per capita park area, it seems Bangkok thrives on a per capita shopping centre area. I'm sure we can be proud of the number of upmarket commercial complexes in the city. On the 4.5km stretch of road between Sukhumvit Soi 24 and Pathumwan intersection, I can already count almost 20 shopping centres ranging in size from exclusive to gargantuan. We need another shopping centre like we need a hole in the head, though it seems some of our dear leaders already have quite a few in theirs.
Lumphini Park is great. It was envisioned and created in the 1920s by King Vajiravudh, Rama VI. The 360-rai parkland provides a lung for the congested city. Bangkok has a number of other parks such as Suan Luang Rama IX and the Railway Park. I would also love to count Benjasiri and Benjakiti parks but there is just too much asphalt or concrete compared to green grass for my liking. All in all, these amount to a per capita total park area of only 1.82 square metres.
Now take New York. I've never been there, I'm sorry to say, but whenever I think of the Big Apple, two images come to mind: the Statue of Liberty and Central Park. The first for obvious reasons, but the latter probably due to Hollywood films.
Compared to the 360 rai for Lumphini, Central Park is about 800 acres, which converts to about 2,000 rai if I don't get my maths wrong. In total, New York has a per capita park area of 29 square metres, and considering that New York is the most populous city in the US, that says something about its concern for city planning.
Perhaps the reason we don't have that many large parks is that, apart from the commercial, money-making aspect, the BMA or other landowners don't want to have the responsibility of caring for such a large expanse of land. But there are ways around it.
Central Park is operated by a non-profit organisation called the Central Park Conservancy, which provides most of the $48 million (1.4 billion baht) annual budget through various campaigns and fund raising activities and well as investment revenue.
Though Central Park was opened in 1857, the Central Park Conservancy only came into being fairly recently. It was set up in 1980 by a group of dedicated civic and philanthropic leaders, and signed a management agreement with The City (New York's BMA) in 1988 for an 18-year term. The City pays the Conservancy a certain fee to care for the park, and also provides such utilities as lighting.
I'm saying all this just to show that it's not impossible, if only someone would actually take the initiative. Fund-raising is nothing new in Thailand; Thais love to make merit, and this would be just another way of doing good for the city. It just takes a different mindset, and taking the focus off money-making projects which aren't necessarily in the interests of the public, but more for the individual.
So please, keep your shopping centres, and give us some green space.
Usnisa Sukhsvasti is the Features Editor of the Bangkok Post.
About the author
- Writer: Usnisa Sukhsvasti
Position: Features Editor