The Chao Phraya river in Bangkok, Thailand. Picture: KATY CHANCE
The Chao Phraya river in Bangkok, Thailand. Picture: KATY CHANCE

Bangkok — A court in Bangkok has asked the city’s authorities to stop work on a riverside promenade that urban planners and environmentalists say would worsen flooding and uproot hundreds of families dependent on the river to make a living.

The administrative court on Wednesday told the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) that the 7km-long elevated promenade on either side of the Chao Phraya river would affect river transport, and damage the ecology.

The court gave the BMA 30 days to submit a blueprint for the 8.3-billion baht ($266m) project, which has drawn criticism since it was proposed several years ago.

“The court’s decision is a very good one, and shows the court listened to our concerns about the project,” said Ajaphol Dusitnanond, president of the Association of Siamese Architects, an industry lobby group in Bangkok. “We all agree the riverside needs redevelopment, but that does not mean we can build into the river and damage its flow. We hope that the BMA will listen to us now.” 

Across booming Asian cities, open spaces and older buildings are making way for expressways and modern apartment towers that critics say rob them of their character, widen inequalities and magnify the harmful effects of urban sprawl.

In Bangkok, authorities are clearing vendors and food stalls from the pavements, and have evicted a community of more than 300 people living next to an old fort for a public park that critics say is meant only to impress tourists.

Dozens of riverfront communities have already been evicted for the promenade, according to human rights groups.

Known as “River of Kings”, the Chao Phraya — which flows 372km from central Thailand to the Gulf of Thailand — was once the commercial and logistical lifeline of the capital. It is still a busy waterway, with ferries and river taxis carrying thousands of passengers every day. Hundreds have lived in traditional wooden stilt homes by its banks for decades.

With a record 39-million tourists last year, Bangkok is the world’s most visited city, and developers have turned to the riverside to lure more visitors, building malls and converting old warehouses into trendy cafés and art galleries.

The BMA has said the promenade will clear the riverbank of illegal encroachments, and open up the river and its historic landmarks to the public with parks, bike paths and walkways.

But urban planners and architects say authorities have not assessed the full impact of the project on the city, where flooding is already common during the annual monsoon.

“This is more than just a walkway — it’s a massive construction in the river, which will narrow the river and affect its flow, and increase the risk of flooding,” said Yossapon Boonsom, a landscape architect.

“Now the BMA has another chance to consult with practitioners and find a better way,” said Yossapon, a member of Riverside Assembly, a group of planners, architects and activists engaged in conserving the Chao Phraya.

Thomson Reuters Foundation

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