2018 World Monuments Watch
Flowing through the country’s ancient heartland before reaching Bangkok, the waters of the Chao Phraya River have shaped the history of the modern Thai capital. But a major construction project threatens to irreversibly transform the city’s relation to the water. If carried out, an elevated promenade will be built along both sides of the river as it courses through central Bangkok, on concrete pylons supported on the riverbed. First announced in 2015, the multi-billion-baht project would vastly improve public access to the riverfront for residents and visitors alike. But the cultural and social cost would be equally large. The concrete walkways would block views across the river throughout the city. In addition to its impact on the cityscape, the project would also necessitate the displacement of many riverfront communities, a process which has already begun. Meanwhile, hydrologists have warned of unforeseen environmental consequences, including more frequent flooding.
Since it was announced, the proposed project has generated widespread opposition from local professionals, riverfront dwellers, as well as members of Bangkok’s business community – including the owners of waterfront hotels, restaurants, and boat operators. Attempts to solicit public input have resulted in little to no change to the original plan. Through the 2018 World Monuments Watch, World Monuments Fund is calling for a radical rethinking of this project. Public debate involving local stakeholders who have expressed their dissatisfaction with the plan will be an essential component of the way forward. And no construction should take place without a comprehensive environmental impact assessment, or without a careful design aiming at minimizing those impacts. Alternative designs are feasible: they would be more attuned to the riverine setting, perhaps featuring floating parks and walkways, and they could offer the residents of long-established communities the opportunity to legitimate their claim to live on the riverfront. Before it permanently transforms the “River of Kings,” this project needs to be halted and rethought.