Chao Phraya prom­e­nade project faces op­po­si­tion

Bangkok Post - - OPINION - AN­CHALEE KON­GRUT An­chalee Kon­grut writes about the en­vi­ron­ment in the Life sec­tion, Bangkok Post.

The banks along the Chao Phraya River have sud­denly be­come a red-hot zone for real es­tate devel­op­ment. Over the past few years, a num­ber of in­vestors have turned to this once dor­mant area and used it to build high-rise build­ings.

The lat­est move has been made by Prime Min­is­ter Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has an­nounced a plan to turn the river­side area into a prom­e­nade, dubbed the “New Land­mark of Thai­land,” with a 14-bil­lion­baht bud­get.

The prom­e­nade’s first 14 kilo­me­tres start from the Rama VII Bridge to Pin Klao Bridge, span­ning both sides of the river.

The next phase will ex­tend up­stream to Phra Nang Klao bridge and the last phase will stretch down from Pin Klao bridge to Rama III bridge.

Yet the “New Land­mark” faces a chal­lenge. Last month, pro­fes­sional ar­chi­tects started to ex­press con­cern about its blue­prints which in­clude a high flood em­bank­ment, mea­sur­ing 3.5 me­tres. Their fear is war­ranted be­cause the pro­posed de­sign, at 19.5m in width, is the old ver­sion that was cre­ated two decades ago when the au­thor­i­ties ini­ti­ated a plan to build roads and flood pre­ven­tion walls along both sides of the Chao Phraya River.

“We wel­come the devel­op­ment along the river but we are deeply wor­ried about the blue­print of the project which is a one-size-fits-all straight con­crete struc­ture,” said Asst Pro­fes­sor Khaisri Puk­sukcharoen of the ur­ban plan­ning depart­ment at Chu­la­longkorn Uni­ver­sity’s fac­ulty of ar­chi­tec­ture.

“We highly rec­om­mend the gov­ern­ment pause the project for public hear­ings and en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment (EIA) stud­ies. The de­sign blue­print must be re­vised.”

The de­sign, she said, was not suit­able for the phys­i­cal and so­cial com­plex­i­ties of the Chao Phraya River.

“The-one-size-fits-all de­sign of this project does not take into ac­count the con­nec­tiv­ity be­tween the prom­e­nade and com­mu­ni­ties living deep in­land,” she said.

“This river is not a straight gut­ter but a cul­tural and eco­log­i­cal land­scape which is characteri­sed by var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties, with dif­fer­ent cul­tures and var­ied land use, tem­ples of dif­fer­ent faiths, schools, and var­i­ous eco­log­i­cal sys­tems.”

As a re­sult, around 29 well-es­tab­lished com­mu­ni­ties — among them gov­ern­ment agency of­fices, schools and tra­di­tional tem­ples — will be af­fected.

The ar­chi­tects, lec­tur­ers from var­i­ous ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tutes in­clud­ing Chu­la­longkorn, Sil­pakorn, Tham­masat and Kaset­sart uni­ver­si­ties as well as civic groups have formed a net­work called the Chao Phraya River­side Area Devel­op­ment Al­liance to keep a close watch on this project.

Their call has gone un­heard. On Wed­nes­day, the Of­fice of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and En­vi­ron­men­tal Pol­icy and Plan­ning dis­missed the call for the EIA stud­ies.

Re­sis­tance against the river­side prom­e­nade has now grown. Tham­masat Uni­ver­sity, hos­pi­tal op­er­a­tors and own­ers of build­ings along the river are on high alert over the project. Many are con­cerned with the vis­ual im­pact from the prom­e­nade.

As­sist Prof Panit Pu­jinda, lec­turer on ur­ban plan­ning at Chu­la­longkorn Uni­ver­sity’s fac­ulty of ar­chi­tec­ture, warned that the flood em­bank­ment will be­come an eye­sore, given that it will be a solid chunk of con­crete.

The group also chal­lenged the idea of flood pre­ven­tion us­ing such a con­crete struc­ture, with many be­liev­ing it will be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.

They pointed out that, eco­log­i­cally, the Chao Phraya re­ceives sur­face runoff from in­land ar­eas in­clud­ing net­works of canals, and the 3.5m dyke would block the runoff and in­stead turn the in­land into “a bowl of soup”.

Grow­ing re­sis­tance has prompted state plan­ners to con­sider re­duc­ing the width of the em­bank­ment.

As­soc Prof Ariya Arun­inta of the fac­ulty of land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture at Chu­la­longkorn said the con­crete struc­ture was an out­dated de­sign.

“The con­cept of flood man­age­ment changes re­gard­ing the land­scape and land use devel­op­ment,” she said.

“We have re­alised that the con­crete hard struc­ture will not pre­vent flood­ing and that the more you build, the higher wa­ter will rise, as this kind of em­bank­ment will pre­vent wa­ter from nat­u­rally flow­ing into the ar­eas it should.”

The lec­turer said green de­sign ad­vo­cates are now look­ing at “per­me­able sur­faces” as an al­ter­na­tive in flood pre­ven­tion. Th­ese sur­faces make use of the nat­u­ral land area or its space to help re­tain and ab­sorb flood­wa­ter, and the method has been used in Thai­land flood pre­ven­tion be­fore, in­clud­ing for its wet­lands and canals.

The best ex­am­ple is His Majesty the King’s kaem ling project (trans­lated lit­er­ally as “monkey cheek”) that di­verts flood­wa­ter to nat­u­ral stor­age chan­nels, As­soc Prof Ariya said.

We highly rec­om­mend the gov­ern­ment pause the project for public hear­ings.


A bird’s eye view of the Chao Phraya. A plan to turn the river­side area into a prom­e­nade is un­der fire.

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