Governor sows seeds for a green future

Governor sows seeds for a green future

New man Chadchart shows early determination to make good on promise to greenify capital

Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt poses with 'Bangkok Post' staff during a tree planting activity organised by City Hall at Chaloem Phra Kiat Park in Bang Bon district on Sunday. (Photo: Apichart Jinakul)
Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt poses with 'Bangkok Post' staff during a tree planting activity organised by City Hall at Chaloem Phra Kiat Park in Bang Bon district on Sunday. (Photo: Apichart Jinakul)

In an effort to turn Bangkok into a green city, new Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt has made an early start on a number of challenging projects to expand urban green spaces and improve public parks.

Mr Chadchart said the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has started cooperating with agencies, the business sector, and local communities in Bangkok to develop new "15 Minute Pocket Parks" throughout the capital, in line with his ambitious policy to ensure easy access to green spaces for all.

During his election campaign, Mr Chadchart proposed 216 policies as his proposed solution to nine of the capital's most pressing issues -- public safety, creativity and culture, economic, transport, public health, infrastructure, education, management and environment.

Among these policies was a plan to address the city's environmental issues.

With the lack of urban green spaces and unequal access to public parks topping polls of voters' concerns, "15 Minute Pocket Parks", aimed at expanding small parks and public green spaces to cover every corner of the city, was seen as one of Mr Chadchart's flagship policies.

However, Bangkok is a densely populated city with over 9 million registered inhabitants that currently affords each of them an average of 7.6 square metres of nearby green space, a figure far lower than the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation of 9sq m.

That means it will likely be a challenging task to procure empty lots in the city to develop new public parks.

A study by the Urban Design and Development Center (UDDC) at Chulalongkorn University found that a typical Bangkok resident must travel 4.5km on average to reach his or her nearest green space.

Fortunately, the people who will be regarded as key stakeholders in the project are already rallying around.

Mr Chadchart said work to find or make space for his new pocket parks has begun in earnest, with the BMA in negotiations with private landowners and administrative bodies to give over their vacant plots to the project.

"On July 5, we discussed the plan to use the empty lots in the communities owned by the National Housing Authority to develop communal public green spaces," he said.

"If we reach an agreement with the National Housing Authority, we can turn much of the unused land dotted around many communities into neighbourhood parks that the local people can easily access and use."

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.

In addition to government space, he said the BMA also contacted the business sector to discuss the possibility of developing public green spaces on privately owned land in the form of Privately Owned Public Space (POPS).

In return, the BMA will offer a tax incentive for public services to find partners for joint development, or come up with administrative agreements such as maintenance and cleaning by the BMA, or public utility services by the state sector, Mr Chadchart said.

He said he and the BMA team had met Siam Cement Group (SCG) executives earlier last month to seek permission to use 53 rai of land surrounding a pond in Chatuchak District owned by SCG as a public park.

In addition to his "Pocket Parks", Mr Chadchart said the BMA will also embark on a city-wide tree-planting project.

"We have set a goal to plant 1 million trees within the next four years. With cooperation from other agencies and the private sector, we are going to gradually plant more trees on every Sunday. So we would like to invite all Bangkok citizens to participate by registering your intent to plant a tree with the BMA via the new 'BKK-plant' mobile application,'" he said.

The project has been well received by the public. "In the first month alone, we have received ... intent from the public to plant over 1.3 million trees," he said. "Therefore, we may extend our goal to plant 2 million trees in the future," he added.

As Bangkok's new administrative team led by Mr Chadchart begins to greenify the city, Yossapon Boonsom, a leading Thai landscape architect and director of Shma Company Limited, said the success of BMA's mission depends on close collaboration with other key stakeholders.

"I agree the '15 Minute Pocket Parks' policy is a good solution to the city's lack of green space. We really do need easily accessible parks," Mr Yossapon said.

However, to make sure that this policy will be fruitful, he suggested the BMA needs to seek out clear and inclusive cooperation key partners, especially the business sector and local communities, because it must ultimately secure not just land, but also co-management of the new parks.

"The business sector has plenty of resources to assist with the BMA's plan to expand more public green spaces, but each company has different strengths and interests, so the BMA needs to be clear on which areas members can best contribute to the project and what is the most suitable incentive it can give them in return," he said.

"Meanwhile, the BMA also needs to work closely with local communities and residents, especially on project planning and management, because in the end we need to develop the space that suits those communities' needs and make sure there is a proper management system in place, or otherwise the park may be left unused and unmaintained."

He also suggested the BMA should not be so strict with its definition of the parks as places for communing with nature.

In fact they can serve many functions as public spaces, for instance as venues to stage concerts or hold outdoor movie screenings.

"There is a lot of potential in the '15 Minute Pocket Parks' and I really hope that it can bring about a more liveable city for everyone," he added.

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