Activists, planners oppose 'unnecessary' Bangkok river promenade

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Activists and urban planners are demanding that Bangkok city officials scrap a planned riverside redevelopment project they say will hurt river dwellers and increase the risk of flooding.

The 10-billion-baht ($425 million) project envisions a seven-km (four-mile)-long elevated promenade along either side of the city’s Chao Phraya river.

Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) officials say the promenade will clear the riverbank of illegal encroachments, and open the river and its historic landmarks to the public with parks, bike paths and walkways.

But urban architects and activists say authorities have not assessed the full impact of the project or considered other options.

“The process has not been transparent from the start, and stakeholders have not been consulted,” said Yossapon Boonsom, an architect and co-founder of advocacy group Friends of the River.

“A comprehensive environment impact assessment is needed, as the promenade will have major negative effects. It will narrow the river and affect its flow, raising the risk of flooding, and changing the way that people interact with it,” he said.

Known as “River of Kings”, the Chao Phraya - which flows 372 km from central Thailand to the Gulf of Thailand - was once the commercial and logistical lifeline of the capital.

It is still a busy waterway, dotted with ferries and river taxis that carry tens of thousands of passengers every day.

Riverside rejuvenation projects, including the opening this month of a luxury mall, have sparked the interest of developers.

The plan for the promenade is transparent, and made with the best technical inputs, after considering all potential impacts, said Governor Aswin Kwanmuang.

Nearly 300 households were cleared to make way for the promenade, and were adequately compensated, he said.

The Chao Phraya promenade is part of a wider effort to modernise Bangkok.

Authorities have also cleared sidewalks of vendors, and earlier this year removed a community living next to an old fort.

Civic groups say the evictions mostly target poor communities who have no formal rights over their land or property, yet contribute to the city’s economy and character.

“The Chao Phraya is a symbol of Bangkok and Thailand, and belongs to everyone,” said Sor Rattanamanee Polkla, a rights lawyer representing activists and planners against the project.

“The promenade is completely unnecessary. There are other ways to upgrade the riverside without impacting the river or the people,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.