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Chiang Mai

Wua Lai

The Social and Economic Roles of Temples as in the Neighborhood’s Societal Autonomy Emerging Issues

Wua-Lai neighborhood is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Chiang Mai with the evolution of cultural heritages and its neighborhood development. This Silversmith neighborhood and its kinship have their centers around two major Buddhist temples (wat) which are “Wat Sri Suphan” and “Wat Muen San”. However, from our previous SEANNET work, there are another temple that is said to be part of “Wua-Lai” Village. This neighborhood is around “Wat Nantharam” on the southern side of the area. This can be included as the third temple for our focus in SEANNET 2.0 and, more interestingly, this neighborhood has their special skill on Lacquerware. The socio-spatial role of the “Silver+Lacquerware” craftsmanship area was gradually formulated from a small settlement of family houses into “neighborhood village” (la-wagg-baan) and recently becoming an urban village (yān) as part of the outer historic are of Chiang Mai old town. 

The focus will include 3 temples and 2 craft expertise: Silverware and Lacquerware that brings the questions: What holds the characteristic of the neighborhood? The clash between socio-economic sustainability from Craft-economy to the new infill developments of new businesses in the area, have caused some responses over the characteristics and craft-village situation. Thus, what are those new socio-economy challenges in Wua-Lai area? And how have these new conditions changed the neighborhood’s socio-cultural dynamism as well as their ways of living surrounded by the 3 temples? How the silver-lacquerware crafts and the temples are used and exchanged their values for developing local projects and mobilizing the inhabitants? The crossed-questioning of the silver-Lacquerware craft which is considered as local production and heritage, and the Buddhist temples as centre of traditional urban life and local organization, has two objectives. The first one aims to understand the forms of organization among neighbors, in both cooperation and competition aspects. Do all 3 temples-oriented neighborhoods develop the same form of organizations for conducting local projects ? The second one deals with the relationship between the neighborhood projects and the contemporary urban conditions of the city: how the new-normal of COVID19 tourism situation in Chiang Mai has led to the revival of local craft production? We focus on how the neighborhoods value their heritages, and build their new responsive projects to what Magnaghi (2005) called as “self-sustainable local development”. 

Neighborhood-Community-City-State Relationships

Relationships from neighborhood-community-city -state are crucial for Wua-Lai. The connection of street of Wua-Lai as Saturday Walking Street to the old town is important to the people who live&work in the area. Also, Wua-Lai area is considered as part of Chiang Mai World Heritage Nomination’s property boundary. Thus, it is crucial for the neighborhood to sustain and being able to safeguard their cultural values and the existences of the “Craft-village” neighborhoods. “Wat Sri Suphan”, “Wat Muen San” and “Wat Nantharam” Temples are the center of its own neighborhoods and all are formulated to become the characteristics of Wua-Lai’s Craft Village area. 

In response to socio-economic transformation and urban change resulting from the mass tourism development since 1990, the inhabitants of Wua-Lai have conducted various collective actions to revive their livelihoods and to preserve their distinct craft skills, which reveal the interconnection between neighborhood and city. Their “local projects” (local museum, weekend market, art study center, etc.) are premised on the following elements: Silver handicraft as livelihoods and local heritage; Temple as social amenity for the city, in the sense that other residents and visitors to the city can have access to this shared place with shared meanings; Cooperative networks that they develop with authorities and other civic networks in the city for creating the solidarity. Before the outbreak of COVID19 Pandemic, by building themselves on the cultural resources, they adopted the devices of globalization (creation of marketplace and tourism attractions) in order to resist the heterogeneization of local craft products and the marginalization that the top-down globalization of tourism and trade often inflicts on them. This can be viewed as “the globalization from bottom-up” that enables sociability, links the neighborhood to the city, and allows them to resist the negative effects of tourism development and globalization of trade. 

Relevance to SEANNET Collective

This situation raises questions about the contemporary role of 2 craftmenships and 3 temples in the neighborhood projects and organizations. The crossed-questioning of the craft-village which is considered as the local production and their heritage, with the Buddhist temples as centres of traditional urban life and local organizations. These link to the vision of SEANNET Collective as good materials for any kinds of platform, program, and community, that are aiming for cross-collaboration initiatives and community-engaged research focusing on everydayordinary living together with their homes, workplaces and shops. This will fit well with SEANNET collaborative theme. 

Research Focus and Proposed Methodology

From above research aims and questions, we decide to continue our architectural measurement workshops on old wooden houses within the area and to conduct both interview and neighborhood observation around neighborhoods of 3 temples. More specially, we will try to use Rhythm Analysis on street events covering Wua-Lai’s Saturday walking street as well as ordinary daily uses. As usual, the roundtable and neighborhood participation are key actions to do so over this phase.