The Mahakan Fort mistake
After booting the old Mahakan Fort community out of their homes in 2018, and turning the area into a park intended for tourists, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) recently, for the first time, tacitly admitted to its mistake.
The park, which was officially opened in July 2018, has been nothing short of a failure, and seen very small numbers of visitors.
Such events were foreseen by the conservationists and architects who repeatedly begged the BMA not to knock down the old wooden houses, some dating back to the early Rattanakosin era, regarded as national treasures and an important part of Thai heritage.
All the sage advice fell on deaf ears at the BMA, which binned a living museum study plan created by Silpakorn University and approved by then governor Apirak Kosayodhin in 2006. This plan featured the restoration of the old houses while keeping the community involved in the development of the area.
Historians and conservationists were adamant that the fort, constructed in the reign of King Rama III, had the community living there, on-site, from the beginning.
But the BMA, under governor Aswin Kwanmuang pushed for the park plan, destroying and booting out the community that had for centuries called the area their home, only to have an eerily quiet and unpopular public park erected in its place.
The attempts to beautify the fort, re-painting it in Clorox-bleach white, and decorating it with neon colours, of course received fierce criticism.
To correct its mistake, the agency has now come up with another idea to redevelop the area into a miniature city museum, in the hope of attracting more visitors.
Deputy governor Sakchai Boonma unveiled the idea to the media this week. A former BMA public works chief, he envisaged building 12 miniature forts, 1 to 2 metres in high, mimicking the city's long-gone forts which, he said, would be the museum's highlight.
The deputy governor said the idea was just conceptual, with investment details and blueprints of the project to be rolled out at a later date.
He envisaged the space as a manicured green park where people and tourists could come to jog or enjoy leisurely strolls.
Mr Sakchai said the redevelopment will take place once the pandemic is over and there have been consultations with the Fine Arts Department.
A short-term redevelopment will see a series of cultural activities, especially traditional music concerts which he believed will boost visitor numbers. Those activities were already held before they fizzled out.
The miniature park idea is ironic and questionable. It only demonstrates the poor knowledge of city administrators regarding living history, and their obsession with material construction divorced from humans and their stories. The redevelopment model has no room to create a meaningful functions for the historical site.
The BMA, particularly Mr Sakchai, should abandon the plan and instead begin with incorporating third parties comprising academics, experts and nearby community residents, giving them a say in how the area could be redeveloped. He should listen to them carefully.
This public park is another example of the city's dysfunctional top-down administration style. This deeply ingrained habit is hard to break.
If the BMA cannot embrace public participation in its Mahakan redevelopment plan, it should leave the area as it is. No more repeating its mistakes. The abandoned park certainly reminds us of the BMA's failures and the lessons it has yet to learn.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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- Mahakan Fort