Sunday, September 15, 2019

Bridge to a healthier future

May 24. 2019
Photo courtesy of UDDC
Photo courtesy of UDDC
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By Phatarawadee Phataranawik
The Nation Weekend

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The Phra Pok Klao Skypark soaring across the Chao Phraya leads a sprawling effort to spruce up Bangkok for its 250th birthday

Bangkok's massive makeover is about to begin ahead of its 250th anniversary as the Thai capital with the Phra Pok Klao Skypark crossing the Chao Phraya River. 

Making use of an aborted Lavalin Skytrain span – the centre lane of Phra Pok Klao Bridge, which sits alongside Memorial Bridge (Saphan Phut) – the Skypark is due for completion in March next year.

It’s being touted as Southeast Asia’s first mid-river garden and observation point.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has allocated Bt122 million to build the walkway and viewpoint on the abandoned rail line known locally as Saphan Duan, meaning the “amputated bridge”.

“It will link Thon Buri and Phra Nakhon districts,” Assistant Professor Niramon Kulsrisombat, director of the Urban Development and Development Centre (UDDC) told The Nation Weekend.

Part of the city’s “Bangkok 250” project to beautify selected neighbourhoods, the Skypark site was nominated by Kadeejeen-Klong San riverside residents as having high potential for a garden, walkway and elevated bicycle lane. 

Launched in 2015 by the UDDC and City Hall, Bangkok 250 will see the city’s top cultural locales improved over the next 13 years and connected to other historic sites. 

Bangkok marks its 250th birthday in 2032.

“It’s city policy to provide a good environment for people and improve the quality of life,” Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang has said.

SGR Enterprise Co won the bidding to build the Skypark, which will be 200 metres long and eight metres wide.

“It will be strengthened and decorated with greenery and give residents and tourists a beautiful panoramic view of Bangkok,” said Somchai Dechakorn, director of the BMA’s City Planning Department.

Niramon added that the “universal design” concept will be used, ensuing that the facility is accessible to all, with elevators ready to carry people bringing bicycles and sitting in wheelchairs.

Niramon said Bangkok has many other disused or underused areas that can be turned into green spaces and recreation areas. 

The Skypark is in keeping with a global trend involving urban parks. 

Singapore has earned recognition as Asia’s greenest city thanks in part to its Garden by the Bay. New York’s High Line elevated park attracts four million visitors a year. Seoul’s Skygarden is a disused stretch of highway lined with 24,000 plants.

“Hopefully, the success of the Phra Pok Klao Skypark will become the model for the sustainable city development that’s part of the Private Public Civil Partnerships approach,” Niramon said.

Pintong Wongsakun, chairwoman of the Kadeejin community, said the Skypark would certainly improve the quality of life there. 

“And because it will link us to Thonburi, we hope more tourists will visit our communities and learn more about our history and culture.”

She said Kadeejeen-Klong San residents would voluntarily help BMA officials take care of the park.

Completion of the Skypark will be a milestone among efforts to make the capital’s master plan a reality. The concept is to create an urban “oasis” with 600 rai of additional parks established beneath elevated expressways and flyovers, letting the capital breathe easier. 

Bangkok, with an official population of around 5.6 million, has only 6.7 square metres of green space per capita. The World Health Organisation says cities should have at least nine if inhabitants are to remain healthy.

Niramon’s team plans to begin correcting that shortfall by turning underused areas into green and recreational spaces.

But development along the river continues to be dominated by privately built condos and malls. Niramon understands there has to be more public access to the riverbanks.

Her team, which pursues a concept called “urban acupuncture architecture”, is currently working on a 600-metre riverside walkway from Wat Kalayanamitra to the BMA’s Department of Law Enforcement offices on the Thon Buri side. There’ll be landscaped spots to picnic, exercise or just hang out.

A small-scale “extreme park” is envisioned for the vacant land beneath an expressway in the Urupong area in Ratchawithi district, complete with artificial hills for skateboarders. Such plans emerge from workshops organised for the local community so that everyone is guaranteed to have a “sense of belonging”.

“We’re designing each project specifically to fit the local community’s needs,” Niramon said. “Urupong has a lot of schools and apartments full of college students, so it’s getting a youth-friendly extreme park.”

It will have trees and shrubs to soak up the carbon dioxide drifting off the roads, and a coffee shop set inside a recycled freight container, plus solar cells and rainwater collectors. 

In the Sathorn area, her team will turn a 3.5-kilometre stretch of Sathorn Klong from Taksin Bridge to Wireless Road into another elaborate park. 

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