Making Bangkok more liveable
Those on lower incomes have a tougher time with heavy traffic, transport services and pollution, experts say
Bangkok's urban development strategy needs to be refocused on improving the living conditions for every citizen, experts urged, as findings emerged that most of the city's problems stem from socioeconomic disparity.
Bangkok is a popular city for tourists. Even after Covid-19 pandemic, the city remains a top destination for foreign visitors to stay, with Bangkok recently listed to be The Best Cities for a Workation in 2021 by travelling website Holidu.co.uk. However, the same cannot be said for people who live and work in Bangkok, as the city's poor living conditions are making their everyday life difficult by degrading their health and wellbeing.
Inequality worsens problems
According to the ranking of the world's livable cities by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2021, Bangkok was ranked 98th from a total of 140 cities in the survey.
Facing with socioeconomic changes in the post Covid-19 era, Parit Wacharasindhu, a pro-democracy campaigner and former candidate for the Democrat Party, said that as the capital and the biggest metropolis of Thailand, Bangkok needs to divert its urban development strategy toward sustainable development.
"Bangkok has the second-highest GDP per capita in the country and is among the top choices for international tourists to spend a holiday, but despite its economic prosperity, the city is not exactly a desirable place for long-term residency due to the lack of an efficient transport system, unsafe and congested traffic, and a polluted environment," Mr Parit said.
Although these problems generally affect everyone in the city, he pointed out that those on lower incomes are especially vulnerable and suffer heavier impacts than wealthier people. As an example, he said while many people have to travel a long distance from their suburban neighbourhood to work and study in the city centre and back through crowded public transport, rich people can avoid such difficulties by buying an inner-city residence and private transport.
"As high-income people do not have to endure the city's problems to the same extent, they can work more efficiently and earn more money, in contrast to low-income people, who are directly exposed to bad living conditions, are at higher risk of getting sick and have lower working efficiency, which leads to higher expenses and less income," he said.
"So, not only do we have to focus on uplifting the quality of life by tackling environmental and safety problems for city dwellers, we also have to improve people's income to break the vicious cycle of inequality."
He said another important task is to decentralise economic prosperity from the capital to other provinces. That will not only boost the economic prospects and incomes of people outside the capital, it will also make Bangkok less congested, with chronic problems easier to tackle.
Assist Prof Niramon Serisakul, director of the Urban Design and Development Center (UddC), said that to make Bangkok more liveable, we must focus on district-level development.
"Bangkok is a large and complex city. It has a highly changeable dynamic and is hard to properly manage. The level of development is also greatly unbalanced between each district, so we need to look closely at every district and make sure they have sufficient infrastructure to ensure good quality of life," Asst Prof Niramon said.
Some 35% of Bangkok citizens are beyond walking distance to a hospital, as many hospitals are clustered in the inner city. It's a similar story with learning centres such as art galleries, museums, and libraries, which also tend to be situated in just a few districts of the city centre.
Some 80% of people in Bangkok use private vehicles for travelling in the city, which is the main reason for its chronic traffic problems. "The big challenge is to reform the city to allow the people to live and work as close to home as possible," she said.
The city must cater to the needs of people in every district to make sure can live live a "full life" within an 800-metre radius or within 15 minutes walking distance from home. "Even though every Bangkok citizen pays tax, some people have more access to public services than others. This is another type of inequality which we need to fix," she added.