bangkok fieldtrip

Concluding remarks on transformation, scale and people-centred development.

/ Andrea Cubides /

“ IS NOT IMPORTANT WHAT THE SCALE IS, BUT WHAT THE SCALE DOES”

C. Boano during the Discussion panel after fieldwork of BUDD and UDP.

 

Regarding transformation we can tell two things in relation to the Baan Mankong Program, the first is that meaningful transformation is happening at the local community level, with the capacities and empowerment that single communities have developed in situations of scarcity creating quality of space and quality of life by themselves and for themselves through the program.

The second is that the future stability of the communities achievements can be threaten by future city growing processes which are transforming the city in disconnection with the communities processes and needs.

The communities have shown what they are capable of, when given the adequate and accessible tools. Coming one more time to the frase from Chawanand Luansang, from the Community Architects Network (CAN) “people don´t have limits in their capacities”, through the process of the BMK they are ready to collaborate in the production of a city that should have real account of the needs and dreams of the urban poor, and not only the economic growth at the cost of the low income population as the mantra, which is happening today in Bangkok and other major cities in Thailand.

Here is where the notion of scaling up is intertwined with the notion of city wide transformation. Scale up is not about covering more people, the BMK has the necessary pace that is managed mainly by the communities processes, it´s not only about participant satisfaction, it is also about participants accountability in the making of their city.

To scale up is necessary to connect the transformation that is happening at the local level with the institutional processes at the city wide level.

As city wide interventions require changes in policies and institutional structures, in land regulations and planning standards, there is a need of political will to work in collaboration with urban poor communities, to give them a space in the city planning table. As Somsook mentioned in one of our previous lectures, the urban poor communities have organised themselves and produce with less money and resources, they are part of the solution.

However, for this needed symbiosis to happen, the grassroots network has to act as neighbourhoods within their areas, connecting physically the individual clusters that exist now and the ones to be created, producing common space for economic and social opportunities (social services, common public space, sports facilities) to gain the experience of planning their districts or regions. This examples can open the possibility for future participation in the city planning process in collaboration with the official institutions and wider actors. This local planning activity must be accompanied by constant network advocacy with the different institutions and organisations that already work with them like CODI, NULICO, ACHR, Districts, among others to look for forms of co-production of the city.

The notion of people-centred development after the BMK is for me, what the entire program is about, is giving the possibility, tools and access to the people to create their own spaces and opportunities maintaining their needs and aspirations at the core of the process. After the Baan Mankong I´m not sure if such development can be done by any government or organization without the management of the urban poor people itself. It is through co-production that the interests of all actors involved can be taken into account in every aspect of the process. Thus, grassroots communities need to be involved in the planning of the city to be accountable.

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Musing on HUA HIN - by Yang Luo

“Architecture has to follow the diversity of the society, and has to reflect that a simple square or cube can’t contain that diversity.”– Toyo Ito

 

Toyo Ito is always one of my favorite architects whose projects often manifest many profound thoughts on the relationship between body and society. Walking along the railway in Hua Hin, looking at the different use of spaces, I began to rethink the diversity meanings of space to people and their daily life. Look at the work of many community architects around Asia who are experimenting with unconventional ways of supporting community-driven change processes in their cities and countries. I really feel that this field trip helped me a lot to get deeper understanding of the diversity world.

  

In order to have a more comprehensive understanding of the community’s current situation and how it is linked with the city level, we run a workshop on Monday morning. Six community leaders and CODI staffs participated in the workshop, including community participatory mapping, actor mapping and prioritizing. Through the participatory process, we had some clues of the challenges of continuing BMK programme and the potential ways to solve the relocation issue. First of all, community members preferred staying on their current land since many of them have lived here more than 20 years. However, when we had a longer discussion and built more trust with us, we were told actually they were flexible about the development plan and they agreed that the relocation plan needed to be near facilities. Community leaders also indicated on the maps that important spaces they usually use are the Chat Chai market and fresh food market for groceries and earn money. All of them agreed that they prefer to be in a 5-kilometer boundary from the Chai Market because they were dependent on the market and schools, hospitals nearby. Also transportation costs and lack of good public transport should be taken into consideration. At the same time, communities need more power to negotiate with higher authorities, they want to influence the central government and need a community network organization. All in all, through the participatory process, we got more useful information than interview, and I also realized that the land issue was not only about the people who are part of the BMK programme, but also other low-income group who are not part of the programme. So our challenge and potential strategy should be finding a possible land that matches the community structure or bringing important facilities (hospital, schools, markets) to the community. 

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Contradictions - Reflections on Bangkok

by Kay Pallaris

My eyes close and I try to think about the things I like about Bangkok. I haven’t given it a chance; I am being unfair with my conclusions. But the humidity and heat make me fall asleep again and I dream of being elsewhere…..

The contradictions of Bangkok come into focus…. it chokes you with fumes; intoxicates you with its blooms; makes you hungry even when you are not; inspires you to think creatively; contagiously makes you smile as you see the smiles on people’s faces; introduces you to new friends; confounds you with its noise; makes you feel small and insignificant under the monstrous highways above; gives community a new meaning; sickens you as you witness the decay of its built heritage……

Dreams are made and shattered. At a price, some wishes come true…..

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Freedom exists in Bangkok; but just for some kind of citizens. For those who do not have financial security, the same kind of freedom does not exist. Access to the city is facilitated for different reasons and one of the most important is the mobility, and Bangkok’s public transportation is not able to offer dignity to his entire population, on average a commuter spends 44 days (1056 hours) in a year traveling to and from work (O’ Neil, 2008).

Pedestrians are the most elemental component of the city, and in Bangkok seems like the relevance of this component is completely underestimated, which is easy to read when you notice the lack of coverture of the Metro Lines in comparison with the size of the city, or when you realized that the public buses are 40 years old. 

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Dignifying the pedestrian is not a priority for the authorities of this city, public investments are more concerned with developing infrastructures which promote the image of a world class city to attract international finance. The consequence of this processes is an increasing number of vehicles and the reduction of pavements sizes, therefore the pedestrian have a restricted area to walk and the idea of freedom is invisible from the perspective of the public space. 

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Housing security should not necessarily be determined through ownership. People must be given freedom to have access to shelter without conditions, because this is part of the construction of the contemporary idea of the right to the city. Actually, freedom in the wide sense of the word, within a urban development context, should ensure to people the possibility to build on their own terms, including aspects like design, materiality and location. 

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Graham Perring
Francisco Vergara

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“People don´t have limits in their capacities” Chawanad Luansang

Reflexion by Andrea Cubides

Days have been packed with loads of information, excitement, heat, sweat, smiles, expectations, friendliness, important lessons and further questions evolving since the first day.

However, one of the main questions that keep coming back to my mind is why, after such transformative examples of community driven development around South East Asia and more specifically with the years of experience of the Baan Mankong Program in Thailand, the planning process of the growing city keeps planning its spaces with unreachable standards for the poorest of the poor. This just keep them out of their piece of the pie, of their right to the city.

Coming from a country in development certainly influences my understanding as a developer in this learning process. I personally believe that this small initiatives and efforts we have been seeing in housing are more manageable by the people (communities) who will live and enjoy them and the scaling up is immersed in the idea of quality rather than quantity and more importantly, in the transformative process of learning to work together which in the long term leaves beneficial skills and empowerment for further projects around other issues of health, education and livelihood security as well as capacity to keep negotiating with different actors.

In my understanding, the sustainability of the Baan Mankong Program is underpinned by the strong bonds of each community. This is because in the long term, after the communities start their savings and get to the point of producing and finish their houses, the stability and certain control over their now owned land, would depend on the cohesion and bonds within them. In other words, one person that wants to leave would represent the domino effect for the rest of the community as would allow possible developers to put pressure on the others by increasing their offer as needed. This is obviously just one of the many things that can threaten a community, but is common before the housing project and after some years of it.

Coming back to the issue of planning, I feel a strong gap between the policy and the real situation it supposed to improve, the majority of the time, instead of opening opportunities for the poorest of the poor, it limits them. The problem lies mainly in the lack of understanding of the daily dynamics of poor communities when creating the policies that are supposed to shape the city, a development practitioner in an office would never understand that living in smaller houses is not wrong when such characteristic allows strong bonds with strangers that learn to live as families, with both happiness and problems it includes; would never understand that seeing small paths between communities is not the same as walking them, who says that is wrong? The answer is, the people like us that has been benefited all our lives by being recognised as citizens and facilitated all sorts of opportunities, but that of course, makes easier to think that everyone should achieve the same standards, but that is not possible for those who have been neglected of their citizenship. That said, policy makers should try to understand the situation of poor people out of their judgement.

 As Chawanad Luansang, an architect form the Community Architects Network (CAN) mentioned “the most important thing in planning is to have a deep understanding of local dynamics and thus, the existing condition should inform the new plans” but in this real world it often happens that new plans are planned as if there was nothing there.

Finally, having a little talk with one of my teachers, it gives me some sort of hope for the planning, as it can provide the opportunity to facilitate the process of shaping the city by the people itself.

All picture credits by the author except for the first image by Adrianne Accioly and second by Francisco Vergara.