In beautifying efforts, don't lose sight of reality
After watching Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang's clip wishing us all well for 2020, I asked myself if I should, in his words, "feel blessed", especially since the reality is the complete opposite.
In his speech, the governor wished us -- Bangkok residents -- happiness, urging us to "leave bad things behind in 2019" and look forward to a brighter future. He also didn't forget to thank his team for its dedication in achieving his administration's high goals.
As for leaving bad things behind, all I can ask is, really? As a long-time resident, I have no confidence we can leave the tough life behind and hope for a brighter future as he said.
How can we possibly feel what he says when we know full well that the governor and his team's sole aim is to please tourists? Over its tenure, the city administration has made it quite clear that its main priority is to beautify the capital for visitors, forgetting that its aim should be to make Bangkok a better, stronger city for its residents.
While the governor and/or his team spend endless hours and undeclared amounts of money on social media trying to convince people of their so-called success in tackling problems or introducing new initiatives, people on the street find their lives pretty much the same, if not worse.
When he said "leave bad things behind", I wonder if he means the fine PM2.5 dust in the air? This hazardous smog has haunted us on a yearly basis, and I certainly hope he doesn't forget -- or pretend to forget -- this fact.
Without serious moves to tackle this issue, the air pollution will get worse day by day at least until the end of next month or March. The two giant air-filters at Ratchaprasong Intersection and in Ratchathewi that he is so proud of are no more than big toys. They may have helped Pol Gen Aswin as a PR stunt, but they're certainly not the proper tools to combat smog. The only way we can control the smog is if we cut back on the number of vehicles on the road, which can only be achieved with the development of an efficient and affordable public transport system.
The city administration has also been boasting about the resounding success its "staged" street-food events in Khao San, Silom and Yaowarat have had. In fact, deputy governor Sakoltee Patthiyakul claimed the 800-metre walking street in Yaowarat had attracted close to 100,000 visitors and generated 18 million baht.
Yet what about long-term plans for street food that can benefit ordinary people, the blue and white-collar workers or the lowly-paid state officials?
In a bid to make the city greener, the administration has come up with initiatives like the so-called Green Bridge and Saphan Duan or a sky park based on the unfinished structure of the Lavalin Skytrain project. The elevated Green Bridge has been dusted off and will eventually turn into a connection between Lumpini and Benjakitti parks. But if the city thinks this is enough, it's wrong.
Last week, the city's rather absurd "Tree/You/Again" project became the subject of much ridicule. The project, launched on Dec 24 at Mahakan Fort Park, saw a handful of foreigners joining city officials in planting trees in an area that once housed an old community, which was booted out after losing a marathon land dispute with the city.
The "Tree/You/Again" campaign in the Mahakan Fort area is ironic, because the area used to be home to a number of majestic trees that the city blatantly removed only to ask foreigners to replant new trees. When will this felling and replanting cycle end?
Similar campaigns are going to be held at Rommaninat, Saranrom and Santi Chai Prakan parks in old Bangkok until March.
Judging from his fierce PR efforts, it will come as no surprise if Pol Gen Aswin, who was handpicked by the military regime to replace MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra, runs in the next gubernatorial election. If he does that, his first move should be to get his priorities right and have all his schemes and initiatives benefit city residents, not foreign visitors.
Pol Gen Aswin and his team may argue that tourism is necessary to generate income for the city. In a way that's true, but eventually it is the residents who will cast the ballots. Making Bangkok resilient and preserving its history is a sure-fire strategy to draw tourists.
Also, should I remind him that nobody will want to visit Bangkok if the pollution persists?
If the governor doesn't know what to do, may I humbly suggest that he lead a life like a normal city resident so he can learn first hand what people are up against every day? Maybe he could take a bus to work once a week?
The boss at the Pollution Control Department took this initiative and encouraged his colleagues to follow. Though his effort may not see the number of cars go down substantially, it will at least set an example, if not make a strong political statement.
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.