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Case Studies


Luen Rit and Kampang Thong Pattana, Phra Nakorn and Thonburi

Contestations in Urban Regeneration

Emerging Issues

As with most cities in Southeast Asia, Bangkok sits on an alluvial plain, traversed by a network of waterways, large and small, natural and manmade. These waterways served many purposes: agriculture, irrigation, transportation, sewage, defence, and daily amenities. When land transportation took hold in the late twentieth century, however, these canals fell into obsolescence as a means of transportation, turning eventually into mere sewers. Houses that once ‘faced the water’ now turn their backs on it. The past few decades, however, saw a revived interest in these canals, particularly among the professional class. With ‘Venice of the East’ as a mobilizing myth, urban policymakers now seek to not only restore the water quality, but also to, perhaps more importantly, revitalize the surrounding areas towards the twofold goals of heritage preservation and tourism promotion. While intended primarily for urban revitalization, these interventions have produced unintended consequences upon socio-spatial justice. Inspired by Cheonggyecheon, a world-renowned exemplar of canal revitalization in South Korea, Bangkok city government issued an order in 2015 to forcibly remove Ong Ang Canal, a canalside market to pave the way for a ‘walking-street’ waterfront promenade. Similarly, Khlong Bang Luang in the west of Chao Phraya River, Thonburi area, is seen by Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) as to promote its local-based tourism, illustrating Bangkok’s nostalgic scene of canal-side local living culture. 

Neighborhood-Community-City-State Relationships

This research project proposes to investigate the transformation of two canal-side neighborhoods, Luen Rit (LR) and Kampang Thong Pattana (KTP) (see more below), as Bangkok strives to make itself known as a liveable, attractive Asian city in the twenty-first century . Over a decade ago, Luean Rit was on the verge of eviction as their landlord had a redevelopment plan. A stone’s throw away from the revitalized Ong Ang Canal and a newly built metro station, Luen Rit is, all of a sudden, located at a prime location. Coming together to form a business alliance, the tenants managed to strike a deal with the landlord, later securing a 30-year concession to chart their own future. On the west bank of Chao Phraya River, Kampang Thong Pattana is located in Thonburi, Bangkok’s former sister city that was annexed in 1972. Despite the official annexation, Bangkok has always been split in two halves, literally and figuratively. The east bank, the Phra Nakhon side, has received most of the development and investment, as can be seen in its upscale malls, financial districts, sites of employment and entertainment, and so on. By contrast, Thonburi is viewed as a quarter of house estates and suburban sprawls. In recent years, however, the extension of two new metro lines is reshaping this asymmetrical relationship. Thonburi is, at last, better connected to Bangkok and sees its land economy booming, with malls, high-rise condominiums, and middle-class consumption spaces pouring in, again, much to the anxiety of the residents in the once backwater neighborhood. 

Old shophouse quarter of Luean Rit / Newly Renovated Luean Rit’s shophouses

A Series of photographs showing Bang Luang canal, Artist House Bangkok, a Canal-side terrace, and Bang Luang market (From left to right)

Relevance to SEANNET Collective

The cross-disciplinary group of SEA scholars in SEANNET Collective, will be a great collaborative platform for exchanging local knowledge and practices not only within the academic arena but real practices on the ground among its partners. Therefore, experiencing community involvement from various SEA cities would be beneficial to urban study courses. Future co-teaching and co-research projects can be made possible across SEA scholars. 

Research Focus and Proposed Methodology

This research project proposes to investigate the transformation of two canal-side neighborhoods, Luen Rit and Kampang Thong Pattana, as Bangkok strives to make itself known as a liveable, attractive Asian city in the twenty-first century. We pose two sets of research questions: 

  • What is the role of the city government in enacting regeneration and infrastructure projects vis-a-vis the city’s canals and waterways. In particular, what resources, discursive and material, has it mobilized in order to set the programs in motion? How has their attitude towards the canals changed, and to what consequences? 

  • How do the two neighborhoods cope with, prepare for, and adapt to the city’s regeneration and infrastructure projects? What tactics, formal and informal, do they employ to mitigate (and contest) the state intervention? 

Straddling the disciplines of urban geography, planning, political ecologies, and community development, these complex questions call for a careful combination of research methods including historical archives, document analysis, participant observation, in-depth interviews, and mapping exercises. In using these tools, we are interested in state power and discourse; community tactical response; and the implications of socio-spatial justice that ensue. Moreover, the state’s attempt at ‘taming the water’ will open up the human-nature interface, leading to important questions on the interrelationships among power, space, and nature in the city that is forecast to submerge in a few decades.