Monday, September 16, 2019

Planting trees is the easy part – preserving them is not

May 12. 2019
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By The Nation

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The BMA plan to bring shade and beauty to nine key roads should include cultivating public appreciation for what little greenery we have left

We’re always hearing promises to plant more trees and usually the promises are kept, but once the mass plantings are finished, the trees often go untended and unprotected. Governments at all levels and businesses keen to demonstrate their “corporate social responsibility” are great at well-publicised plantings, perhaps not so conscientious about seeing their saplings and shrubs through to maturity and beyond. 

Trees are easy to plant and, in our climate, will grow robustly wherever there’s sufficient water and nutrients. Any abandoned lot will be overgrown with brush soon enough, to be followed by trees emerging from seedlings blown on the wind. But in urban settings, trees count on humans for a little assistance. 

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) is to be applauded in announcing that 100,000 trees will be planted around the capital this year, yet at the same time there is sound reason for scepticism. Bangkok is a textbook example of poor urban planning, a money-talks-nature-walks city where permits are granted for incessant construction and the BMA, frantic to combat traffic congestion, rolls elevated roads across what few green patches remain. If big trees are knocked down to make way for more concrete, some citizens will surely voice outrage, but the project will go ahead regardless. Perhaps a selected few trees will be salvaged and moved, ceremonially for the press cameras, but the smaller growth is gone forever.

Bangkok residents have for decades been demanding more green places and parks have indeed been created and trees planted. But this is reactive environmentalism. We should be more concerned about keeping the trees we have rather than planting new ones. That means both avoiding cutting any down as well as taking good care of the ones with roots already deep.

The BMA project “Now Moving Forward”, which will see trees planted along the pavements and road islands of nine major thoroughfares, is certainly noble. The concept should have carved in stone when Bangkok was designated the new capital of Siam 237 years ago. But trees would have been so abundant then and the city has kept growing at such a rapid rate ever since that no one objected to the vanishing greenery until recent times. Our affection for nature is in conflict with our need for convenience. Kids love trees but grow up to be developers. They’ll earn their living erecting dwellings for an ever-increasing population and the trees will remain constantly under threat.

The roads that the BMA wants to make greener are Srinakharin-Romklao, Sukhumvit, Vibhavadi Rangsit, Mit Maitree, Ratchadaphisek, Sri Ayutthaya, Liab Klong Modtanoi and Hathairat. The trees will be species that are sturdy and low-maintenance, like tamarind, sok nam and lueng pridiyathorn. They’ll suck up some of the ghastly pollution and make the streets look nicer. Residents and visitors will appreciate the effort. Whether Bangkokians become any more enamoured of greenery in general remains to be seen.

The BMA, whose chief functions are development control, the maintenance and improvement of infrastructure, and mass public transport, cannot be said to have got off to the best start with this initiative to make Bangkok greener and less polluted. Planting so many new trees is laudable, but City Hall should place higher priority on making sure these and all other trees are protected and cared for consistently. This is where the future can truly begin putting down roots.

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