Promenade spoils river

Promenade spoils river

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) revealed last week that it has cleared all obstacles to the controversial Chao Phraya promenade project and is now looking to open bids for the first phase of construction in April. If everything goes as planned, the first pile foundation could be driven into the Chao Phraya river to support the 14-km promenade complete with bike lanes, museums, new city landmarks and viewpoints as soon as July.

However, City Hall has not taken strong opposition to this project into account, whether it be from civic groups, urban culture activists or environmentalists.

Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang insisted the project will go ahead as soon as all the preparations are done, including the relocation of 285 households from areas designated within the parameters of the project as well its design and budget, according to news reports.

Meanwhile, Pol Gen Aswin has said that four sections of the project worth about 8.3 billion baht will be up for bidding next month. The government has already given the BMA a rolling budget from 2017 to 2020 in support of the project, and the Interior Ministry has approved the BMA's plan for this project. As such, all that remains is for the Marine Department to grant its permission.

BMA officials estimate that once construction starts, it should take about 18 months for the walkway project to be completed. This would take until either the end of next year or early 2019.

It's astonishing that the BMA and those government agencies involved with the project have consistently ignored the substantial concerns and disagreements that people from various walks of life have against this project, which will intrude into the major river that is rich both in history and Thai culture and is a vital ecosystem in its own right.

According to the BMA, the project's designer has agreed to reduce the width of the promenade from 12-19 metres to 7-10 metres. It will consist of bike lanes and walkways, which will be built along the 14-km banks of the Chao Phraya between Rama VII and Pin Klao bridges.

City Hall said it will serve as a prime spot to view such attractions as the new parliament building. It will provide linkages to historical sites and communities on the riverside while providing city people with a new space for recreational activities. Most important of all, the promenade will see the construction of new buildings likely to serve as museums, which will stand as new Bangkok landmarks and boost tourism.

While most people would agree that the Chao Phraya River and its banks can be developed to better serve local people and tourists, the huge promenade does not seem to be based on a well-thought-out plan that will preserve the spirit of the city, the mighty river, or the people that have lived along its course. For one, it is not connected to anything. On top of this, it will cost about one billion baht per kilometre to build.

The river does not deserve to be "developed" by having a huge structure obstructing its natural flow, ecosystem and beauty. If the BMA and government were more in tune with what the river represents, and what it means to the Thai people, they would surely be able to come up with a more detailed plan.

There should be a more human development project that is not only friendly to the river and its surroundings, but also one that enhances the city's prestige and the lifestyles of those Thais who are closely linked to the river.

In short, this astronomically expensive project has been hampered by poor planning. Flanking parts of the river with big concrete walkways and bicycle lanes and building some "iconic" museums complete with water-spouting sculptures may be a quick and easy way to "improve" the landscape, but it is by no means sustainable, people-friendly or graceful.

The Chao Phraya and those who admire it deserve a better result than this concrete promenade which will compromise both the ecology and splendour of this great river.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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