The day is Monday and the site is Rattanakosin Island. It’s our second day of our visit to the communities in the old city of Bangkok. A week ago, we had been in the same place but to the other side where the grand palace of past kings stood. A place filled with buckets of stories of old and now we were back to hear new stories – stories from people who stayed in timber houses and shop fronts from times where war prisoners, royal family members and civil servants dwelled.
The streets of Phom Pharb district in Rattanakosin Island are distinguished mainly by rows of tainted, old styled shop houses selling traditional craft and unique art and cultural goods sold by locals who have been there for generations. These two storey long stretch of shop houses give Rattanakosin Island a dated feel to the place as its facades are preserved according to the Crown Property Bureau’s (CPB) standards.
However, it’s easy to wander the streets without realising that there is a whole other dimension behind these neatly straight rows. Directly behind these are many pockets of communities, quietly tucked away but each filled with people who are very much involved with Rattanakosin’s past and present activities. Most of these communities are built with timber on stilts ranging from homes that have been there for over a 100years each with a history to it.
We managed to speak to quite a handful of people here and there in mainly two communities- one formed by middle-class residents who dwelled in the shophouses with the timber built households behind; and the other down the road where a quaint little art/community culture centre is the face of the community.
It seems that these two communities are keen on seeing urban renewal in this area using culture and art as a tool. The place is bursting at the seams with stories of old and talent. What the place needs now is a stronger interaction between the shop house and timber house locals. It amazes me that though they are so close to each other spatially, there is a lack of interaction. However, culture, religion and arts seems to be the catalyst along with the Baan Mankong Program to bring the people in between these shop houses back to the front. The only semi-serious threat that may be preventing socio-economic development to happen are the over-arching conservation plans at the top levels. Only time will tell…and I guess another blog to expand my thoughts and data gathered.