BMA leaves a green footprint

BMA leaves a green footprint

In a year in which Covid held back progress on the economic front, the BMA left its mark with several notable landscape development projects, writes Supoj Wancharoen

People go kayaking and paddleboarding in Klong Ong Ang. The historic canal in central Bangkok has been cleaned and its banks landscaped to attract visitors. Somchai Poomlard
People go kayaking and paddleboarding in Klong Ong Ang. The historic canal in central Bangkok has been cleaned and its banks landscaped to attract visitors. Somchai Poomlard

Year 2020 was a quiet year, without exciting news from City Hall.

The Bangkok governor's much awaited election which was expected this year was postponed and most BMA activities have revolved around the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Also absent was any interesting investment project, as the BMA needed to tighten its belt as the economic malaise brought down by Covid-19 affected the city's revenue from tax collections on commercial billboards and buildings.

City Hall also had to postpone a plan to raise wastewater treatment and garbage collection fees this year.

But there are a few good landscape development projects to talk about.

Skypark

One is the Chao Phraya Sky Park, a highlight of the city landscape development this year.

Built on a concrete column and structure, this elevated park stretches across the Chao Phraya River. The development is clever; the park was built on the abandoned concrete columns and structures of the old Lavalin Skytrain project, which has been left unfinished for more than three decades.

Opened in June, the skypark costed about 122 million baht to develop. It has become the capital city's new landmark, and a pride of landscape architects as it is claimed to be the first park in the world that arches across a major river.

But the beauty of the skypark is not only the standalone park; it is also useful for the local community.

The skypark is part of the Kradi Chin-Khlong San community conservation plan. This plan is a joint venture between the BMA's Department of City Planning and Urban Development and Chulalongkorn University's Urban Design and Development Centre (UDDC), which is responsible for the design.

The park is 280 metres long and 8.5m wide, includes a scenic spot, a corner for relaxing and a walkway. It is located between the in-and-outbound lanes of Phra Pok Klao Bridge. The bridge runs parallel to Memorial Bridge (Saphan Phut).

Canal revamp

Despite its small scale, the landscape development of Klong Ong Ang canal received a great deal of attention. The space along the canal bank has become a popular social media check-in spot among visitors.

Formerly known as Saphan Lek (Metal Bridge), the area was illegally occupied by street vendors selling toys and pirated CDs for decades until BMA launched a crackdown in 2015.

Metal bridges and stalls were removed, while street vendors were banned from trading.

After the renovation, areas along the canal from Damrong Sathit Bridge to Osthanon Bridge which stretches 750 metres were turned into public space. The area can be used for public events only once a year, on Loy Krathong Day.

The walls of buildings lining the canal are now adorned with graffiti art featuring the history of this neighbourhood, while street food stalls are allowed only in licensed areas.

And as both sides of the canal are designated as walking streets, the cleaner water in the canal has attracted people to play water sports including kayaking and boat rowing.

Walking street activities are organised on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, from 4pm until 10pm.

More green space

The PM2.5 problem prompted BMA to increase the amount of urban green space (UGS) in the city. Areas with big trees are seen as an a effective natural mechanism to trap dust particles and help keep the city cool.

This year, Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang announced a plan to increase the UGS to 7.08 square metres per capita, from 6.91 sq m per capita the previous year.

The BMA also set a goal that by 2030, the ratio will reach 10 sq m per capita. The World Health Organization set a goal for a healthy and green city to have 8 sq m per capita.

Under this policy, the BMA has opened four new public parks in this year. These are a 30-rai plot near the intersection where Romklao Road meets Chaokhun Thahan Road, the 10-rai Piyaphirom Park on Srinakarin Road, Santiphon Park in Phra Nakhon district, and space underneath a section of the Chalong Rat Expressway on Soi Pridi Phanomyong (Sukhumvit 71 Road).

The BMA also has given away 1 million seedlings of trees with yellow flowers such as ruang phueng (Schoutenia glomerata) and grown 169,789 mangroves in the 220-rai Bang Khunthian mangrove forest.

In addition, BMA is developing landscape of trees and street furniture along nine major roads including Rom Klao-Srinakarin Road, Vibhavadi Rangsit Road and Sukhumvit Road.

Yossapon Boonsom, a landscape architect, praised the BMA's efforts in landscape development.

"These projects show Bangkok governor's has a keen interest in landscape development, and that is good for the city and its residents," he said.

But Mr Yossapon questioned the sustainability of these projects because local residents might not have a sense of belonging or ownership.

"The BMA still set its own rules and want to have its own way. All projects are fixed by a timeline and conditions and minimise opportunities for the community to participate," he said.

He cited the Mahakan Fort as example of a failure to foster a sense of community and ownership in a public space. The BMA removed traditional communities which had been living there for over half a century to develop a green space. The Pom Mahakan park is not popular and rarely visited.

"Mahakan Fort Park, for example, lacks a dimension of history and sense of community. Nobody will use a park without a soul no matter how clear the water is in the canal," he said.

He said he hoped the BMA would encourage more public participation in future.

In some other countries, the private sector is offered a tax incentive to take part in funding such projects.

The public should also be encouraged to take part in the design process, he said.

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