Preserve city street food
City Hall has, all too predictably, botched it again. By refusing to talk to the people it governs, and by waving away protests instead of listening, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) is turning a minor fuss into a major mess. Authorities have ordered food vendors off the pavements of three popular gathering areas between Sukhumvit sois 55 and 71. The world's No.1 Street Food City is about to become the Bangkok deserted sidewalk centre.
Here's the rationale, to use the polite word for this. Food carts and vendors have always occupied a lot of the pavement space in the Thong Lor-Ekamai-Phra Khanong area. City Hall claims, although it produces no evidence, that pedestrians have complained of obstructions. Therefore, in the name of the unnamed complainants, all street-food vendors must be gone by April 17, the end of Songkran. Pavements will be cleared.
Yet there's a problem. People love street food. Bangkokians flock to this central-Sukhumvit area to patronise the food vendors. The CNN cable-news network has named Bangkok as the top city for street food in the world -- twice in a row. And the street food vendors of Bangkok give a certain indefinable but obvious "character" to the capital and the entire country.
Even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs plays a part here. Its Thailand Foundation issued an Android and iPhone app on the subject, called simply "Street Food". It now has three editions -- Bangkok, Chiang Mai and the new Phuket version. The Bangkok app has just been translated into Chinese. It highlights street food along Sukhumvit Road. Google Play Store reports tens of thousands of users, and app ratings of either four or five stars.
City Hall, meanwhile, suffers from a serious lack of consideration for Bangkok people. From Section 44-appointed governor Aswin Kwanmuang to the administrators and enforcers of his policy there is a cold and dispassionate mood, along with a lack of communication. This is seen in the BMA's unimaginative and serially stubborn "plan" to raze the historic Mahakan Fort community and turn it into a park. No one was consulted and alternative suggestions have been imperiously waved off.
Exactly the same lack of planning has gone into the treatment of the pavement food vendors, their hundreds of thousands of customers and the massive worldwide goodwill they bring to the city. One day last month city officials presented what they called official "notices to vacate" to food vendors. There was no prior consultation. A City Hall employee suffered a public meeting with vendors which predictably had no effect on the get-off-the-pavements order. It is still "leave or be removed" on April 17.
This high-handed and ultimately harmful "our way or the highway" attitude did not begin at Mahakan Fort and will not end with the Songkran weekend. It's not limited to Bangkok authorities. A current issue is preservation of historic railway stations. The State Railway of Thailand, with government support, wants to tear them down to make way for new ones. Yet millions of citizens value their heritage and their history.
There is one extremely simple alternative to the ousting of the vendors by Pol Gen Aswin and BMA staff. It would allow Bangkokians and tourists to have their street food and eat it too: The city should lead or cooperate in bringing order to the popular area. Regulating cleanliness, establishing areas for cooking and for dining tables while leaving room for pedestrians would be a start. Less popular street food cities than Bangkok have excellent, attractive city areas for street food. City Hall should adapt, not dictate.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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