Communities Get Mobilized Against Bangkok River Walk

Making a walkway along a river is generally supported with enthusiasm by local communities and citizens as it brings many advantages such as relandscaping and urban improvement, a ban on cars and less pollution. Last year, the Thai government decided to revive a project of a 57 km-long walkway along the Chao Praya River in Bangkok, stretching from Rama VII Bridge to Samut Prakhan. A wonderful initiative per se for citizens and visitors to discover the diversity and traditions of communities present along the river for over 200 years.

However, the tricky part of this ambitious project is its design: instead of having an environment-friendly, well-integrated walkway, the government just revived an old plan for the construction of an expressway- conceived to relieve Bangkok congestion.

What would have been a walkway will actually look more like a 14-m large tollway just set up at the level of the river, suddenly hiding constructions behind a wall of concrete. Communities would be denied the view over the river, visitors on boats would only guess historical constructions and houses behind a ramp of concrete while hundreds of pillars of concrete will create environmental damage as it will affect the currents of the Chao Praya River.

Previous construction projects -done on a rather small scale- already brought a lot of problems. During the Bangkok River Fair, an initiative to raise awareness but also bring communities together, representatives from Banlamphu community (Bangkok district around Phra Arthit/Khao San road) have seen garbage gathering along the walkway while the city provided little maintenance to the area.

“The lack of resources at the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to maintain such a huge walkway is one of our biggest concerns. Authorities believe that Bangkok can match cities such as London, Paris, Seoul or Singapore with their riverbanks. However, we are not as mature. Bangkok remains Bangkok with its charms but also its failures. And it should remain like this”, voices Marisa Sukosol, one of the owners of the Sukosol and Siam hotels.

“I think that authorities should first think about the well-being of local communities, consult them before embarking into the project. The Chao Praya is the heart of Bangkok cultural and historical life with communities being part of it for a long time. The River belongs to all of us, inhabitants of Bangkok as well as visitors. I think a priority should be to improve life of the communities along the river by implementing landscaping, restore the environment, improve the cleanliness and accompanying cultural projects of the various communities rather than launching new large infrastructure”, she adds.

Most of the communities talking during the Bangkok River Fair expressed their opposition against the project. “our request is that we do not want the road to be built because no authorities have us whether we concur or not. If the construction does go ahead, will we receive any worthwhile benefits? “, questions Pa Mo, a lady representing Banlamphu community.

“There is a positive sign into this project. it brings communities together. it turns into a giant puzzle with architects, community leaders, visitors, environmentalists joining hands to look at alternatives. And it brings back the River into the mind of many Bangkokians”, tells Marisa Sukosol.

Communities threatened by the project will now plea the government to listen to the voice of the affected population. They also hope that any development will first prioritize the survival of the communities s well as taking into consideration a 200-year rich history and culture along the river.

A heavy weight of politics just join the communities’ movement. The Bangkok River Fair was joined by Anand Panyarachun, a former Prime Minister. “He is a symbol of what is right to be done”, adds Marisa Sukosol…

(Pictures about Bangkok Art Fair on facebook under www.facebook.com/ASEANtravel-330361913829283/?ref=bookmarks)

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