Being exposed to Bangkok:
First impression ofBangkokwas combined with a nostalgic feeling of home with the high-rises in the background and its skyline where there was little sign ofBangkokat first glance (excluding the cockroaches that looked familiar, specially the ones that could fly). ‘Venice of the East’ was the phrase that kept echoing in my head when we arrived to Bangkok which was more overwhelming by the amount of highways observed and the lost spaces in between. After a few days residing inBangkok, I noticed that the city is growing against its water base fabric, also the fact that this is parallel to the ratio of urbanisation. As a result the greater the urbanisation becomes the water base characteristics also become less apparent. BangBuaCanalcommunity as we visited in the first week of our arrival shows their dual characteristics of road and water base housing, but as we went aroundBangkokit was obvious that road base buildings are more dominant in the process of urbanisation. The second week was even clear to me in terms of the fact that the canals and canoes are no longer in use and the water base culture is rapidly fading away. The communities I visited were in the Bang Khen District which most of them have a strong spatial bond with the canal. The first day of our arrival they took us to the different communities next to the canal with a boat they bought themselves with the profit of selling trash. At this point it was clearer why the water base activities are getting weakened, where we were stuck in the canal for 30 minutes due to the amount of pollution in the motionless water of the Canal and the other moment was when I became aware of the road base activities in terms of economy. These two factors were the main points which resonated in my mind for the underlying reason of declining water base activities. During the days at Bang Khen, it made me realise that the popularity of vehicles and roads, gives a feeling that the ties and relationships of residents on either side of the canal is being destroyed. But on the contradictory note the communities are trying to maintain their waterfront culture by linking the residents closely to the canal by the means of a 3 meter public pathway and also as a way to bring back the aquatic ways of living where for example at Bang Bua they were planting vegetables in the Canal and in another community they have an aspiration for a floating market. To maintain the life style and culture of water base activities, some initiatives should take place like improving the quality of water where the communities next to the canal are in the process and also strengthening the canal base transportations. Adding on this there needs to be raising awareness of people in order to protect the canals further and etc …. (I would like to add here the ineffective role of the municipality by the imbalance responsibilities that is being enforced on the communities and over burdening them with aspects that should be covered by the municipality itself)
Digesting BM programme:
“The program makes room for poor communities to reawaken the lost art of citizen involvement in Thai Cities.” This quote explains more or so what stroked me the most through the whole process of studying Baan MaanKong, which is very rare in many countries around the world and how they can be the catalyst for policy change like the new building codes for urban poor under governmental projects which act like an annex to the main building codes. This has been achieved with the effort of the community itself and it proves community strength and union in every aspect of life. On the site we could see that the process of one community had inspired and motivated others in more ways than simply building upgrading. It has a multiplier effect. The empowerment of the community was both organizational and financial and this was a much more significant catalyst for transformation than the physical upgrading of the community. (Noting here that before going toBangkok we as group were looking for the ‘engine’ that keeps the actors in momentum for the whole process and as we came back it was obvious that the communities are the engines of this whole process)
Moving from the power of policy change to design in communities, where it lacks and falls behind the social aspects that the community itself is creating like the local construction workers. When having a lecture by the community architect in the first week, they talked about vernacular and indigenous techniques which there were no sign of in the communities visited and the construction was done in a very conventional way. One of the points that would come across here is the process of gentrification that might occur in the future in these communities which have been considered by the community by the means of minimizing vehicle access to the sites as it is tied to middle-income vehicle driven life style and the effectiveness of this is also a big question in my head. Moving from the notion of gentrification, the longevity of the building’s quality of construction and design may also not be desirable in the future and may perhaps not fit into the future vision ofBangkokand would develop to a future slum in relationship with the progression of people and city developments around them. Also the program is about development progress where some issues like sustainable development, longevity of materials and buildings or even political drivers are being unaddressed.
There is an endless list of concerns that I can write about, but I would stop here and rewind my memory and think about the fact that I was lucky to have a chance to journey across these communities as a lot of people around the world don’t even know such places as ‘slums’ exist in their cities, not excluding myself; as it was also my first expereince.