Building a more livable Bangkok

Building a more livable Bangkok

Balancing the built environment with quality of life is a daunting challenge, but hopeful signs are emerging in the capital

Global urban population growth is expected to skyrocket by 2050 with an anticipated 70% of the world’s population living in cities, according to a recent article in Blueprint, a global magazine presented by CBRE.

In the past 10 years, Bangkok has seen rapid development and redevelopment. The increasingly high cost of remaining prime land plots has necessitated high-density, high-rise buildings to make building financially viable for developers, given the high investment cost. Bangkok is already a crowded city with most of the public areas such as roads, walkways and parks overburdened, especially in rush hours.

CBRE Research shows a planned new supply of 420,000sq m of office space to be completed by 2019 and another 1.2 million sq m between 2020 and 2023. Of this new supply expected between 2020 and 2023, a total of 260,000sq m is expected to be in non-Central Business District areas while 955,500sq m will be in the CBD.

Residential supply is also expected to continue to grow. CBRE Research forecasts that between 2017 and 2021, we will see 30,480 new units come on the market in CBD and downtown areas, while midtown and suburban areas will see 124,153 units released, based on current projections of expected launches.

New mega mixed-use projects, office buildings and high-rise residential projects in the pipeline will bring an even greater number of people into the city centre and surrounding areas in the coming years, further burdening public spaces and transport infrastructure.

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Already, the number of cars on the road creates great amounts of dust and exhaust pollution, combined with increased heat from engines idling on the roads. Better traffic law enforcement and management can alleviate this impact to some degree, but the sheer number of people and vehicles means city planners will need to pursue more profound changes to create a sustainable solution in the long term.

Building a more livable Bangkok

a new leaf: The Forestias, scheduled to open in 2022 at Bang Na-Trat Km 7, will devote a sizable amount of its 300-rai site to an urban forest. Photo: SUPPLIED

Quality of life is going to suffer both in terms of livability and health if innovative and serious measures are not taken to change the situation. Fortunately, authorities are aware of the challenges and changes are already under way to improve the city.

Continuing expansion of the MRT and BTS train networks will help to alleviate road traffic by connecting the CBD with midtown and suburban areas of Bangkok, making travel time, at the very least, more predictable for commuters and reducing the number of people dependent on cars, which should also reduce the number of cars on the road to some degree.

Speaking of cars on the road, expecting people to stop buying cars may not be realistic. While we may not be able to reduce the number of vehicles, there are initiatives that could greatly reduce vehicle emissions and create better air quality in Bangkok.

Los Angeles, for example, has an even larger road infrastructure with more vehicles on the road than Bangkok does, yet its air quality index hovers around 60-80. In Bangkok and surrounding areas the figure hovers well over 100 most days, with levels often reaching 140 to 160 in parts of Bangkok. Anything over 100 is considered unhealthy by US Environmental Protection Agency air quality standards.

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Changing the technology in vehicles and drastically increasing emissions control requirements, as California has done to address air quality control issues, may be a more realistic solution to dealing with air quality. Granted, this won’t necessarily reduce the number of cars, but it will at least make Bangkok more healthy and tolerable when one is outside. Banning vehicles that don’t meet these requirements and using law enforcement to ensure compliance would be the follow-up step.

Other changes are already under way. Of note, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and police have begun clearing the footpaths of food carts and goods vendors in the CBD areas. While the removal of food vendors may be controversial in terms of its impact on the availability of affordable food, the obvious positive impact is less stench due to less garbage, cleaner sidewalks, and a more positive experience for people trying to walk around downtown.

Another positive side effect will be better traffic flow as the roads are not inundated with trash and pedestrians dodging cars because there is no pavement space for them to walk on.

Another positive development is that the BMA and the Metropolitan Electricity Authority (MEA) have been working on an initiative to move cables underground on 38 streets between 2016 and 2021. They have already completed burying cables in some areas of Sukhumvit Road which has noticeably improved the look and feel along the road, making it less cluttered and more open. Other stretches such as Ratchadaphisek Road from the Lat Phrao intersection all the way to Rama IV Road are next, with a targeted completion date of 2021.

As developers build and rebuild Bangkok’s CBD, drawing greater populations to the capital, both city planners and developers must work hand in hand to build in livability and set health and quality of life standards for air-quality measures, infrastructure support for waste management, water, electric, communication and transport, as well green spaces where people can stay in contact with nature and relieve stress.

The good thing is that both private and public-sector developments have been giving more attention and thought to long-term sustainability and livability, while considering the higher density of people per square metre that these high-rise buildings will bring. One Bangkok, a mega-mixed-use project to be developed on the corner of Rama IV and Wireless roads, for example, is planning for approximately half of its 100-rai site to be dedicated to green space for the public and occupiers.

Magnolias Quality Development Corporation is another example of the private sector putting more emphasis on the quality of life in the built environment with The Forestias, a recently announced development scheduled to open in 2022 at Bang Na-Trat Road Km 7. It is aiming to bring nature back into the built environment by developing a 300-rai site that will support a forest ecosystem in a metropolitan area.

New development is always exciting, and changing from the way things have always been done can be difficult. But as we look forward to the future of what Bangkok can become, both the private and public sectors as well as residents of this great city must all work together to create a capital that we can be proud of, that is pleasant to live in, and can continue to be a leader of progress for the region.

The examples mentioned above illustrate how some very straightforward, though not always easy, changes can often make some of the biggest impacts. We must all be willing to invest in these changes both in our habits as communities, and in support of initiatives from the public and private sector, in order to achieve a better quality life for all. n

Also read: Property partnership eyes high-end Bangkok market

Source: Bangkok Post

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