Solving the city's lack of green space
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Solving the city's lack of green space

Residents urge picks for Bangkok's top job to build more public parks

Once surrounded by vast patches of green farmlands and fruit orchards, the rapid expansion and urban development of Bangkok during the past century has turned the city into a jungle of concrete.

As the capital continues to grow, some academics stressed the lack of public green spaces is now one of the major pressure points in Bangkok, since the city has a lower ratio of green spaces per capita than the minimum standard, contributing to many environmental and public health problems.

They said the new Bangkok governor must build more green spaces while ensuring equal access by the public.

Green space dilemmas

Having sufficient urban green space that is easily accessible is essential for securing a good quality of life.

Asst Prof Niramon Serisakul, director of the Urban Design and Development Center (UDDC) at Chulalongkorn University, said Bangkok has neither enough green spaces compared to its population nor equal access to public parks.

According to Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) data for public parks and green spaces, Bangkok has 8,922 public green spaces, consisting of a total land area of 26,329 rai.

However, when considering the city's registered population of more than 9 million, residents enjoy just 7.6 square metres of green space per head, which is far below the ideal ratio of 50 sq m of green space per person and even lower than the World Health Organization (WHO)'s minimum standard of 9 sq m per person.

Despite figures clearly showing Bangkok's lack of green spaces, Asst Prof Niramon said the real situation may be even worse.

"Based on a UDDC study, we've noticed that the BMA's definition of green spaces is too broad and inconsistent with the WHO's term," she said. "The BMA's definition includes tiny green areas, such as traffic islands and small private gardens."

"Those areas are impractical for public use and do not meet WHO's qualitative standard, so if we only count actual public green spaces in Bangkok, the city's green space per capita will drop to only 3sqm per person," she said.

The UDDC also found that the average Bangkok resident must travel 4.5km to reach their nearest green space, nine times higher than the WHO standard, which recommends that people should be within 300–500m of the nearest green space, she said.

She said the city's public green spaces are also unequally distributed throughout Bangkok, as many public parks are clustered within just a few districts of the city centre, while some districts do not have any public green space.

"By extension, Pathumwan district's green spaces have 13.8sqm per person with an average reach distance of 1.5km, while another 36 districts have less than 3 sq m per person on average," she said.

"As the Covid-19 pandemic is not yet solved and people still suffer the consequences of outbreaks, it is even more important for Bangkok to have public green spaces," she said.

"Having easily accessible quality green spaces near home can greatly improve people's physical and mental health."

Partnerships 'key'

The Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) and UDDC last week published a series of policy recommendations on Bangkok's green spaces.

Even though obtaining new plots of land to develop parks is challenging in a densely populated metropolis like Bangkok, the report identified many possible ways to increase public green spaces in the city, including using vacant land in the capital.

The BMA, it said, could make use of state-owned empty spaces under expressways and empty lots.

It could also develop green spaces on private land by collaborating with the landowners under public-private partnerships. Tax exemptions and other benefits can be provided to landowners as an incentive for allowing the use of their lands for green spaces.

The BMA, it said, should also change its building regulations to promote the construction of gardens on top of private buildings.

Picks' policies

One governor candidate with a clear stance on solving the urban green space issue is Chatchart Sitthipha, an independent who has come out with a "15-minute park" policy.

Mr Chatchart said the main idea behind this policy is to ensure equal access to public parks for residents.

He said developing new public parks throughout Bangkok will allow anyone in the capital to reach a park within 15 minutes or about 800m.

"Right now, Bangkok has about 1,034 public areas that are in use by communities," he said. "We can upgrade these public spaces to be quality urban green spaces for everyone."

He also said he would provide tax benefits as an economic incentive to private landowners to encourage them to develop unused land as public green spaces.

Sakoltee Phattiyakul, another independent candidate, suggests transforming the BMA's vacant lands into small "pocket parks".

He would also support more activities at public parks, such as water sports, to boost people's wellbeing, he said.

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