11/07/2011

Cities and risks — Bangkok

Thailand has been facing major floodwaters since late July. This event started in the north where some provinces have been inundated for more than a month. As BBC News reported on october 20th 2011, more than one third of the country's provinces have been inundated [and] some nine million people have been affected over the three-month period of floods, with northern and central areas badly hit in the early stages.
Bangkok Flooding. Originally appeared on GlobalPost
> Thai residents make their way across a flooded street close to the rising waters
of the Chao Phraya river on October 30, 2011 in Bangkok,
Thailand. (Daniel Berehulak/AFP/Getty Images)

Earlier today News 24 announced that floods threaten Bangkok, the Venice of the East. Bangkok, capital and largest urban area city in Thailand, but also a small port at the mouth of Chao Phraya River has recently acquired the status of a global city. The greater Bangkok contains 11,971,000 (2008 census) and a density of 5,258.69 /sq. km while the megalopolis 20 millions people. The city is surrounded by the river Chao Phraya and its canals network (khlongs in Thai) which have been converted into streets.
However many khlongs still exist and people gathering along them leading to highly polluated waters. Hence, as reported by GlobalPost, flooding depends not just on topography but on man-made structures.

Monsters and Critics revealed that Bangkok will need to clean up three and four million tons of garbage once floods covering about 60 percent of the capital subside, and to reconsider its politics of quality management of urban and rural areas if it will be able to face the next flooding event since it will increase in the nearing future. Subsequently, it is time for Thailand to seriously think of implementing a real urban planning that will start with the poor areas of its urban and rural zones. It is difficult to say if the city will be economically affected and I infer that Thai government has not the Japanese government's budget to consider a "backup city" in case Tokyo is again hit by an earthquake or other natural disaster.

Read: Tokyo having a backup city

In a recent essay titled "Creating Resilient Cities in-Step with the Seasons", Melissa Sterry pointed out that Asia has been subjected to a relentless assault of major flooding events in a matter of years. This is the case of Thailand which records a large number of flooding events such as, to take an example, the 1983 flooding event. In this context, it is certain that this flooding event must not be considered as a stand-alone natural disasters as it will increase with global warming.
Originally appeared on BBC News

The country has a major problem of rapid urbanization causing a swell in the population. As mentioned above, most of the new urban candidates live in the margin of cities, precisely in the slum neighborhoods. Needless to say that urbanization requires the building of infrastructure and services, and in the case of Thailand but also of many Asian urban areas facing rapidly-growing population, this implementation is to be rapid if not urgent. The housing market has clearly failed these vulnerable populations. It is consequently evident that these fragile residences alongside the river are inadequate to face consequences of natural disasters. This flooding event obviously raises a host of question that must be addressed.
Bangkok Flooding. Originally appeared on BBC News

Yet, with the size of the population that is accompanied with a huge demand of housing, infrastructure and services, implementing a new urban system is difficult. And the fragility of Thailand in the event of natural disasters will reinforce the difficulty of implementing a realistic, if not a resilient urban system.
No matter how difficult are these challenge issues, it is nonetheless urgent for the Thai government to shift into a resilient, responsive and adaptive country that will place risk as one of the major considerations of its politics of quality management.
Wetropolis © S+PBA
> A floating city that does with natural disasters' issues.
Here the city is capable of adapting to these issues and offering best quality of life
for the residents.

In other words, Thailand must create resilient cities in-step with risks putting flooding the issue of rising sea levels, pollution, water as well as other natural disasters as the core element in any urban planning project.
Wetropolis © S+PBA

Read: Ideas for Recombining Cities? Towards a More Collaborative Approach to Re-Engineer Cities

As Melissa Sterry described "a very small handful of built environment practitioners are researching how we may potentially utilize nature's inherent intelligence when developing resilience to extreme weather events in our urban habitats." It nonetheless is difficult to predict natural disasters. Hence, I may repeat myself, the necessity of building flexible and adaptive cities, of creating capabilities to handle these issues.
Wetropolis © S+PBA

Thai architects will surely try to respond to these hazardous issues. S+PBA's recent project Wetropolis,  presented at Aedes Gallery in Berlin (from October 9th to 21th, 2011), is an example of a possible response to this issue of rising sea levels and the rapid sinking of Bangkok. S+PBA's Wetropolis allows a sustainable Bangkok to live with natural flooding issues. Probably designing a city that does with instead of doing against natural disasters can be the key to accept and mitigate the impact of natural disasters. Who knows…
Wetropolis © S+PBA

These recent news that announce a nearing disaster for Bangkok, as mentioned above, confirm the urgency. While the country tries to clean up and rebuild the north damaged areas, floodwaters continue to flow south toward the still unaffected areas en route to the sea. It will indeed threaten the city's subway system, two key industrial estates, but it will also threaten the residents, those who live within the city and those who live in the margins.

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