Bangkok the Sustainable City
25 September 2013
While Bangkok is the name used by most foreign residents, locals call it Krung Thep Mahanakhon or Krung Thep. The full name, which is abbreviated thus, is actually the longest place name on the globe, with 168 letters and an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. Its beginning means “city of angels” – a romantic and auspicious name.
Starting my internship at Broadgate Financial and coming to Bangkok for the first time, I must admit that I was very surprised, for a major city, at the lack of city planning, public transport and general infrastructure. There are essentially three main problems that I have encountered while discovering the city.
Firstly, the citizens of Bangkok seem to be plagued daily by enormous traffic jams that make it very difficult to get around the city. It seems to me that this problem is directly linked to the absence of interconnectedness between the different areas of the city. Although improvements have been made (for example through the setting up of the BTS system) there nevertheless remain many parts of the city that are not well inter-linked. Moreover, why aren’t there more automated traffic lights? Most of the time, traffic is merely controlled by policemen.
Researchers estimate that two million people in the world die each year as a result of air pollution and as cities get more over-crowded, the problem is likely to get worse. According to the Nation, Bangkok is Asia’s 13th most polluted city. Most Thai citizens having lived in Bangkok all their lives consider the air pollution as a normal aspect and accept it as part of their daily lives.
Lack of green areas
The problem in Bangkok is that developers are constantly trying to find new available spaces to build their apartments. As a result, hundreds of trees are being chopped down resulting in an ever more decreasing green spaces for Bangkok’s citizens. It is a well known fact that people often travel outside of Bangkok on weekends to escape the pollution and constant noise. Wouldn’t it be more pleasant if they could find a little bit of tranquility right on their doorstep? We should not be too critical though. Bangkok is home to Lumpini Park, Rama IX Park and Benjakitti Park to name a few, where citizens can enjoy a relaxing stroll after work.
Bangkok: An Attractive city nevertheless
However, despite the problems listed above, Bangkok remains after Paris, the second most visited city in the world! With ever more people becoming drawn to live in cities, it is imperative that cities become more sustainable. Indeed, it is estimated that in 2050, 75% of the population will live in cities.
The question now remains: How to build more efficient, green and sustainable cities, as more and more people are attracted to live in cities? In other words, how to make cities ‘’smarter’’?
Make more efficient use of data
According to the Economist, cities provide data, which can be used effectively to overcome problems stated above. Data analytics could help anticipate traffic jams for example, an idea firstly put forward by Major Bloomberg in New York. This system is already widely used and recognized in several cities. According to the BBC, Rio, for example, has set up “a Nasa style control rooms where banks of screen suck up data from sensors and cameras located around the city”. These projects require long-term, rather than short term solutions. Another example, according to Harvard, in areas of the country most affected by snow, the use of weather prediction could help forecast which areas of the city requires more removal equipment.
Others, however, take on a more pessimistic approach and argue that while data may be able to predict where traffic jams will happen, it is not able to take cars off the road. Researchers have also come under criticism that improvements are too slow. Why? Is there a lack of money? Structural barriers? Another problem that has arisen is how to make most efficient use of this data without breaching the privacy of citizens. In other words, data should not be abused. This problem is directly linked to the question of who should control the data. Governments? Businesses?
Technology naturally plays another very important role in improving cities through the use of wireless communication, on-board sensors, internet and GPS, useful information can be exchanged between cars and the infrastructure to improve traffic flows, as well finding parking more easily and avoiding dangerous traffic situations.
I believe Bangkok has tremendous potential and space for improvement. However, if these transformations are to take place, each and every citizen must act now before it is too late.
Bangkok has developed very rapidly, but unfortunately with not much urban planning. As a result, high skyscrapers have been constructed one after the other and that, often leading to the eradication of green spaces. Bangkok is on the right track though. The “Compact City” plan has been introduced which includes strategic plans, comprehensive plans as well as environmentally strategic plans. Walkaways for example should be developed. Urban planning will ensure that Bangkok follows a path of sustainable development. In a Ted talk, Rick Robinson summarises well how to make cities smarter.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of The Broadgate Financial Group.