Rattanakosin Island Waterfront Reclamation 2001-2004

Rattanakosin Island Waterfront Reclamation
Bangkok on the waterfront

Update: With the change in Bangkok Governors, the ambitious plans to redevelop the Bangkok waterfront has effectively been canceled: BMA set to save Ta Tien from Samak mall threat, The Nation, November 14, 2004
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is likely to scrap a plan by former governor Samak Sundaravej to demolish old buildings in the Ta Tien area and replace them with a shopping mall, a city executive said yesterday.
Trungjai Buranasomphob, an advisor to the governor, said after reconsidering the project on the orders of Bangkok Governor Apirak Kosayodhin, the BMA felt that the area's old buildings should remain...

The Nation has an interesting article (Note: The Nation often changes their directory structure and this link no longer works) on the upcoming 16-year, 15 billion baht plan to reclaim the Rattanakosin area for preservation and tourism. The plan is controversial because it will remove many structures erected after the Rama V period (post 1910), including the National Theatre, the Thai Dance School, and some buildings belonging to Thammasat University. This will create riverfront parks and line-of-sight views of the oldest temples and palaces. The present population of the area will be reduced from 200,000 to 90,000.

The Thammasat Factor
Probably the most vigorous protests will be over the relocation of undergraduate students from Thammasat University. The university has always been a hotbed of student activism and protests in the area have been central catalysts in Thailand's democratization over the years. Hopefully, there will be a way to free the waterfront and preserve active student life.

It is unusual to find national treasures and prime cultural tourist attractions hemmed in the way they are here. Bangkok's scenic waterfront (that's right, it's scenic) is obscured by nondescript buildings. While the character of the neighborhood will undoubtedly change, the ancient monuments deserve space and respect. We hope they press forward with the plan in some form.

Chao Phraya Waterfront Park Already Open
If anyone wants to see the beginning of what these parks will look like, go to Phra Sumen Fort (at the northwest corner of Rattanakosin Island). The fort has been restored and surrounded by a fabulous waterfront area called Santichaiprakarn Park. A quick stroll through and one can start to realize that Bangkok can hope to one day have a riverfront promenade as impressive as the one in Kowloon, Hong Kong. One can also see the Rama VIII Bridge construction from the park--another spectacular addition to the waterfront.

Note: For some reason, a graphic that is included with the article in print--the snidely titled chart "Unwanted buildings and communities"--does not appear with the online version, so we have reproduced it below.

Unwanted buildings and communities

Tourism Information Centre of the Tourism Authority of Thailand
the Office of the Council of State
National Theatre
Thai Dancing School
Relocate the school and demolish the buildings to open up the vista to the Front Palace (National Museum)
Thammasat University Demolish some buildings to create an art-and-culture yard
Tha Prachan and Tha Chang community Remove structures encroaching on the river and demolish some of the buildings
Navy Club Remove and replace with a garden
Tha Tien community and Pak Klong Talad (fresh market) Relocate and change the area into a garden
Rajini School
Tang Trong Jit Commercial College
Wat Rajabopit School
Relocate and replace with a garden and a cultural yard

Source: Project survey and planning conducted by Synchon Group Co. Ltd according to the Master Plan to conserve and develop Krung Rattanakosin Old Town

From The Nation, May 27, 2001

Updates - on various projects around the Rattanakosin area

Govt to revive city 'Champs Elysee' project - Bangkok Post, April 26, 2008
Buildings and street furniture will be upgraded to be on a par with those of the Champs Elysee in Paris. The plan is to promote the avenue as a cultural route with upscale shops, including a high-end hotel.
The first phase, costing 1.6 billion baht, is to redevelop buildings and footpaths on the avenue. Important works include the 107-million-baht underground walkway and 487-million-baht renovation works on vintage buildings, and others.
...'I do not reject business and tourism. But this area has multi-layer land use, cultural importance and old community settlements and all stakeholders should be given the right to have a say how they think this area should be developed,'' he said.
Unfortunately, the work plan is handled by a consultant firm, he noted.
''Where are the people, community and stakeholders? This is a very big, crucial area and what the government will do is let a group of experts decide what the area should become,'' he said.
With regard to the original plan, the NESDB had commissioned a group of consultant firms to work out the master plan study in 2002. The group comprised Creative Development Co, SJA-3D Co and A-Seven Company.

Fears for giant swing - The Nation, February 26, 2005

Ratchadamnoen plan won't spoil downtown - Bangkok Post, February 24, 2005
...According to Utis Kaothien, senior NESDB adviser overseeing the project, it would be based on the principle of sustainable development to preserve the area's original character, the environment and promote tourism.
"The government will issue its final conclusion within the next two years whether or not it will allow the construction of a shopping complex in the area,'' he said...
The second phase, which is to include skytrain and subway routes and accommodations improvement, is expected to be completed by 2012.
The skytrain is to be extended from the National Stadium through to Mahanak, Lan Luang, Phan Fa Lilat, Phra Ahthit to Prannok, while the subway would run from Hua Lamphong station through Chinatown, Pak Khlong Talat, Bangkok Yai, Tha Phra to Bang Wa...

Dreams of the past - February 3, 2005
An article from 1997 detailing the ambitious, but unrealized plans for downtown Bangkok:

Ambitious planner hopes to turn city into utopian wonder - The Nation, December 30, 1997
Forget Venice. One ambitious city planner hopes to turn Bangkok, or at least the more historic districts of Rattanakosin and Thonburi, into a ''Paris of the East''.
''We have a very beautiful city,'' asserts Manop Bongsadadt, the chairman of the Housing Development at Chulalongkorn University. ''Rattanakosin and Thonburi are nearly 250 years old. My dream is to turn these areas into an open museum, to make them as handsome as Paris.'' You can call him blind, but clearly Manop does not lack vision. Along with the older sections of Bangkok, he hopes to transform an entire swathe of the city stretching along the Chao Phraya River.
Nor does he lack influence, for Manop also serves as an adviser to Bhichit Rattakul, the governor of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA). He is part of a team of urban planners who see a window of opportuntity to lay the groundwork that will make the city a more livable and attractive place.
''This is the best time to do it,'' noted Manop. ''The economy is slow so land management is easier, the zoning rules are going to be changed, and the governor has a vision for the future.'' Still, his dreams seem impossible to realise, until you consider the fact that he is patient. ''In London, it has taken 200 years to get a street along the Thames River, and along the Seine [in Paris] it has taken 250 years,'' he notes.
The process is just beginning in Bangkok, or rather will begin with the adoption of the Water Frontage Setback Bill, Manop told The Nation in an interview earlier this year. The law is designed to open up space along the river by controlling the height and usage of waterfront buildings.
The three metres of land closest to the river will be reserved as a flooding embankment, buildings constructed from three to 15 metres of the riverbank will be restricted to a height of eight metres, while buildings 15 to 45 metres from the river will be allowed no taller than 16 metres.
''Once that law is in place, we can do a lot of things,'' said an enthusiastic Manop.
Another key step will be the adoption of a new City Plan, which is due to come out in July or August of 1998. BMA officials are currently drawing it up, after which it will submitted to the Ministry of Interior, and then to a public hearing...
''We're planning light rail transit to serve the district, we're putting wires underground and His Majesty the Kings wants to build a new bridge connecting Bangkok to Samut Prakan,'' Manop said...
Downriver from Rama III is Klong Toey. ''An interesting area, the question is how to make it a livable place,'' muses Manop. ''Perhaps we can use the London Docklands as a model for development.'' A massive urban rehabilitation scheme crowned by Canary Wharf, the development of the London Docklands development was controversial because it forced out many of the working class labourers who had lived around the former port. Re- development of the Bangkok port area would almost certainly result in a similar conflict with the current residents of Klong Toey.
''The conflict is there,'' admits Manop. ''We will have some problems.'' In between the new financial centre and Klong Toey is the old Maenam train station, now an oil storage depot. ''It's so dangerous for the city to store oil there, the site should be moved,'' Manop asserted. ''The land is owned by the State Railways of Thailand, and we are talking to them about leasing 100 rai for a park.'' Across the river, meanwhile, is Bang Krachao, a huge swamp which is gradually being turned into a park. Development there has been severely restricted as the government slowly goes about buying up the land...
''We are all technocrats, the working atmosphere is so pleasant,'' sighed Manop. ''But we also know we only have a short time in which to work. The next governor will be a pure politician.''

OLD BANGKOK: Opponents vow to halt city revamp - The Nation, December 23, 2004
[It is not a surprise that this old, lingering issue has been brought forward at this time as the elections are nearing.
Residents, activists and academics band together against ‘secret’ govt panel...
...The rector called for the plan – likely to result in the eviction of at least half of the current population in the area – to be totally revised, to make it participatory and sympathetic to residents.
...Silpakorn and Thammasat University both lie within the historic zone. Earlier, a former rector of Thammasat voiced boisterous opposition to the plan, which could include turning part of Thammasat into a five-star hotel and museum and transferring all undergraduates to the Rangsit campus north of Bangkok...

Car park planned under new site honouring HM - The Nation, November 22, 2004
[The controversial Sanam Luang car park idea has been reannounced.]
The government plans to build a huge underground car park under a new public park near Sanam Luang, which will be constructed to honour His Majesty the King...
...If the car park project were to be approved, it would be an about-face by the government. Earlier, its Rattanakosin Island Development Committee shot down the proposal of ex-Bangkok governor Samak Sundaravej to build an underground car park at Sanam Luang.
...The master plan also includes projects designed to build underground crossings along the avenue as well as spelling out how to set aside areas for the construction of an electric rail system, he added.
Earlier: Samak's development plans being reversed - November 15, 2004

City walking street plan gets new deadline - Bangkok Post, November 6, 2004
...A traffic diversion plan, new mass transit system, and more parking spaces along both ends of the avenue were also planned.
Hotels along the Ratchadamnoen Klang avenue including the famous Royal Hotel would be upgraded into five-star boutique hotels. The existing building opposite Mahakan Fort and the Golden Mountain would be upgraded into a three-star hotel.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration had proposed around 3.2 billion baht for nine projects under the plan.
A source said the city proposed a 962-million-baht construction of three pedestrian underpasses, 305-million-baht renovation of an old city canal, 101-million-baht renovation of Klong Lod, 1.3-billion-baht construction of an underground car park and road repairs in front of the Thai mint museum, 68-million-baht restoration of areas around the Dramatic Arts College, 18-million-baht renovation of Bang Lam Phu and 42-million-baht renovation of the old Internal Trade Department building. The source said the committee had not yet approved the 3.2-billion-baht since it was much higher than that of the master plan, around 504 million baht. He said the BMA was asked to re-evaluate the budget although they generally agreed with the project proposals.

City set to halt car park plan - TNA, October 26, 2004
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration appears set to drop plans to build an underground car park at Sanam Luang following objections from a government committee, a senior city official said yesterday...
He said the department would propose an area under Rama VIII Bridge as an alternative site for the underground carpark.
...The committee’s view is that no mega-project can be built on Rattanakosin Island. Large developments would affect the balance of underground water and eventually cause the land to subside, Adul said...

Community slams plans for Tha Tien - Bangkok Post, May 10, 2004
This plan is back in the news after disappearing since 2002.
Residents of Tha Tien community, one of the city's oldest communities, have denounced a plan to develop the area drawn up by the Committee for Conservation and Development of Rattanakosin and Old Towns.
...Under the plan, most structures would be demolished to pave the way for tree-lined walkways and lawns. Only structures and houses registered as historic sites would stay.
...Buildings along the Chao Phraya river such as Tha Prachan community, Royal Navy Club and Pak Khlong Talad market _ lifeline of the flower and vegetable trade _ face the same fate.
...The director of Onrepp's natural and cultural environment conservation division, Prasertsuk Chamornmarn, said only structures belonging to the state such as Royal Navy Club would be affected. The plan would not touch residents.

Work on old inner city starts in June - Bangkok Post, April 27, 2004
... The BMA would be responsible for sewage system improvement, building six underground walkways under Ratchadamnoen avenue, refurbishing pavements at tourist spots such as Khao San road and Thanon Sib Sam Harng road in Bang Lamphu, and conserving historic buildings on Tanao road.
Utis Kaotien, senior policy adviser from the NESDB, said the first five years of the project would involve basic infrastructure development, pavement refurbishing, and canal restoration. In the second five-year phase the pedestrian walkways would be built.
...The Royal Hotel would be upgraded into a five-star hotel and Thevej Insurance building would become a three-star hotel...

City council revives controversial Sanam Luang car park project - Bangkok Post, October 2, 2003
"The project was in limbo for so long because of the stupidity of some members in the Rattanakosin City Plan Committee who had opposed it."... The 30-rai underground car park was designed to for the northern half of the 63-rai Sanam Luang field. At an estimated cost of 900 million baht, it would have two floors with capacity for 300 coaches and 999 cars at a time. Buses would be charged 100 baht an hour and cars 30 baht. Mr Samak said he expected construction to take 18 months.

Samak revives car park plan - Bangkok Post, October 1, 2003
Bangkok governor Samak Sundaravej is again itching to revive the controversial underground parking project in Sanam Luang... The project has already been rejected by the Committee on Conservation of Rattanakosin and Old Towns on grounds that its construction might damage the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The committee said a nearby area--the former location of Revenue Department--might be a more suitable site.

* Email petition from those opposed to the Rattanakosin Island plan
* Suthon Sukphisit has written a good overview of the conflicting opinions concerning the plan (apart from the Thammasart University issue, which usually dominates the debate).
* On June 17, 2001, The Nation printed another article with more criticism of the plan. It also mentions an idea to bring back the old Bangkok trams.
* Campus plan spurs march Bangkok Post, June 20, 2001
* Panel slammed for raping city's landscape Bangkok Post, June 20, 2001
* Old artifacts found at new car park site Bangkok Post, June 20, 2001
See also Santichaiprakarn Park

Comment from a reader - November, 2002
From an email we received: As a recent tourist to Bangkok and then Hong Kong/Kowloon I would like to put in my two cents worth on the planned clearing of riverfront properties to reduce the clutter and vendors and residents so that we tourists can enjoy a scenic view. For your information, the scenic views I relished seeing in Bangkok were the ones where local people actually lived on, worked on and used the river. Yes, gardens and parks are nice, but not at the expense of removal of the very vivid life that premeates now. And the raving about Kowloon's waterfront is over-rave. Whereas I'm happy I went to visit Hong Kong/ Kowloon, it is not on my list to return for a second visit because I found it to be too developed, too sterilized...almost as bad as American cities. Bangkok, on the other hand , wakes up the dead in one with it's throngs of people that enjoy their heritage. As a touristthey are what I want to see when I travel. Please don't kill the goose that is laying the golden eggs. Because I have Bangkok on my list as a must return I have fears that the goose may well be dead before I get back. - Atlanta, USA

Rajdamnoen revival? - October 5, 2002
Rajdamnoen Avenue (the street Democracy Monument is on) should be one of the grandest streets in Thailand, but it is lined by dingy old-time businesses housed in dank, leaking buildings. But that may change: The government will turn Rajdamnoen Avenue into a new shopping street as grand as France's renowned Champs Elysees if Disnadda Diskul, a personal adviser to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has his way.... Disnadda said that the Crown Property Bureau (CPB), which owns many buildings along the city's landmark avenue, would not renew any of its expiring rental contracts. He said 137 of the contracts were due to end between now and 2004.... An underground road system, car park and monorail service around the area would also be incorporated into the Rattanakosin island project, Disnadda said. (from The Nation, LOCAL CHAMPS ELYSEES: Transforming Rajdamnoen)

Secret vote to decide Sanam Luang car park - Bangkok Post, September 6, 2002
The Committee on the Conservation of Rattanakosin and Old Town would meet Governor Samak Sundaravej on Sept 16 to present its decision, which would be made by an unprecedented secret vote. And an earlier article: BKK governor denies plans to scupper car park scheme

Tearing down Tha Tien Market - Bangkok Post, August 18, 2002
Governor Samak Sundaravej's plan to have Tha Tien Market torn down to create a ``visual space'' and a new walkway for tourists, has hit a snag... Tha Tien dwellers were not happy, while the Crown Property Bureau, owner of the land, said it had registered the old quarters as conservation site with the Fine Arts Department and therefore demolition of the area was not possible.

About face on Rattanakosin Island
Excerpted from Historical buildings 'won't be torn down,' The Nation, March 14, 2002
....None of the buildings at Thammasat University and Silpakorn University will be destroyed to develop the area into a cultural attraction for tourists, said Prasong Iemanan, a member of the Committee for Conservation and Development of Rattanakosin City. Every single historical building will remain, Prasong said.
....The committee agreed that the Rattanakosin City area would be turned into a cultural tourism area, and that the various government offices would stay intact. Only buildings without "architectural value" that are obstructing the area's view will be torn down, according to the plan.
Expansion of government offices or academic areas would depend on the people working there, the committee agreed. Silpakorn University, for example, will expand towards the Sanam Chan Royal Grounds, while Thammasat University has already expanded to Rangsit.

The Nation reports on a peculiar Thai tradition--Cursing Rites
Students opposing a plan to relocate Thammasat University (TU) undergraduates from Tha Prachan Campus to Rangsit Centre will tomorrow stage a protest and organise a cursing ceremony to wish bad luck on those pushing for the project. The cursing ceremony would be the Si Sa Ket version, widely regarded as the most sacred of all, TU lecturer Charnwit Kasetsiri said yesterday. Chilli and salt would be burnt at the ceremony, Charnwit added.....TU administrators have long planned to relocate the TU undergraduates to Rangsit Campus but the plan has not been implemented due to strong opposition from students.... Charnwit also said that many Thai students and former lecturers abroad had voiced their opposition to the relocation plan, and expressed concerns that the symbol of democracy would be destroyed if the plan was allowed to go ahead.... ( excerpted from "Cursing rite, rally at Thammasat," January 28, 2002)

December 13, 2001 - We were forwarded an email petition from those opposed to the Rattanakosin Island plan. You can read it here.

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