Thailand: Bangkok’s Biggest Problem, Lack of Green Space?

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Summer has passed, but there will be future summers. Record-high energy demand has been Thailand’s recent norm.

Will the South experience blackouts again next year? This serious national security issue merits a serious response. 

Will the Cabinet take off their suits to “save energy” again? These types of action, however press-worthy, won’t solve problems. We need to address the issue of increasing heat and energy shortages at its root. 

While worrying about summer overheating, let’s also consider that projected rainfall this rainy season could easily exceed 60 millimetres, the maximum volume Bangkok’s sewerage system can handle without overflow. Currently, whenever it rains, overflow occurs on every major street, exacerbating traffic jams.

Scientists warn that overheating in Bangkok is reaching “urban heat island” levels, when excessive solar heat trapped in the city during the day is released at night. The effect is heat without any respite. 

To worsen matters, the heat prevents monsoon water vapour from cooling and condensing to produce rainfall. Water vapour collects and allies with energy from downtown Bangkok, which moves up to meet cool, moist bodies of air in the Rangsit-Pathum Thani area in the city’s northeast. 

The impact occurs in the vicinity of Don Mueang Airport, causing heavy rain and turbulence. The airport was originally sited there for its high elevation, but its complete submergence in the floods two years ago has entirely negated this advantage. 

We Bangkokians have changed the city. Flood-ways have been replaced by factories, housing – and even Suvarnabhumi Airport. Green areas, meanwhile, have been transformed into car parks. 

Lack of green space

Unsurprisingly, Bangkok has the least amount of green space among major Asian cities. We only have 3 square metres of green per capita, compared to Singapore’s amazing 66 square metres. These figures demonstrate the contrast in farsightedness between the two nation’s governments.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has responded to the urban-heat-island phenomenon by proposing new urban planning regulations for the capital. The intent is to slow development downtown for at least five years by reducing density and increasing green space. 

In addition, the BMA is pushing for high-density development along subway routes to offset heavy traffic – one of the major causes of urban heat. 

“Slowing down” Bangkok in order to conserve it should have been undertaken years ago, but it would have fundamentally challenged real-estate interests. 

Even now, critics of the new regulations argue that these actions will prevent the growth in the city centre and lead to uncontrolled sprawl at the city’s edges, further endangering existing green space. 

The new urban planning regulations are mechanisms to shape the growth of the city, to be updated every five years. Ten years from now – when the capital’s mass-transit system is complete, bicycle usage is up, and traffic jams are diminished – development density can resume. 

Investors concerned with the potential sprawl effected by the development freeze would be justified if only there were significant green areas left to consider. 

Green spaces surrounding Bangkok are nearly all gone. That is why we enjoy 3 square metres of green area per person, while the minimum for a healthy city is 9 square metres.

Moreover, the remaining green areas are outside the jurisdiction of the BMA. 

Can Bangkok be saved? 

The BMA’s new planning regulations demonstrate good sense. If developers adopt green building standards, it would be reasonable to incentivise them with greater buildable area or higher density. 

These mechanisms have been used elsewhere in the world for promoting environmentally friendly buildings. 

These solutions are often fruitful, and show that green building and urban planning reform can work in concert with the private sector for the benefit of all.

 

Source: The Nation

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