Bangkok/ Civic Spaces as Focal Point to Unite
In the Thai context of a very top-down social hierarchy ordered by social stature and position, the authority and power for social-spatial arrangements and divisions for space naturally rested on the shoulders of the elites of the society. The elite top, best represented by the monarch before the 1932 Coup d’état, and the intellectuals and the military afterwards, would become the driving force that manipulated the rules for the sprawling of Bangkok in their respective sense of ideology encapsulating their visions for the nation.
The efforts to improve Bangkok’s urban conditions by sampling by European models gave rise to many new civic spaces such as squares, parks and avenues, which were separated from the old local urban areas. Trees were imported en masse to beautify the carriageways. This upgraded district, centered by the Ratchadamnoen Avenue, would soon be known as the “Royal Road”, meant to represent the power and authority of the country and monarch.
Whilst holding the ultimate power to decide land ownership and uses, the king had recognized the importance of developing inclusiveness in targeted populace when coming to land usage design. One might assumed a more conservative approach, given the close proximity of the new civic spaces from the royal grounds. However, the decision to open these spaces were aimed to promote social integration between different classes and to cultivate a sense of national identity, particularly among the lower classes. King Chulalongkorn, the orchestrator of Bangkok’s Westernization by European Imperial designs would sponsor the first of many fairs and festivals that encouraged the participation of the elite and common classes alike.
In light of the initial success, further royal grounds would be forgone and made ways for civic spaces. A wider variety of events would be held in order to cater for the different tastes of people from different classes. Performances ranging from Siamese to Western styles, shows, fairs become a general entertainment event which also included minority ethnic groups. Although no abrupt changes to social traditions were brought about, the fairs and festivals held at the civic spaces become a starting point for the ruling elites to introduce Western goods and ideas to the Bangkok population, kick-starting the modernization process of the city not only on urbanistic terms, but in the general societal point of view.
MOORE, E. & OSIRI, N. (2014) ‘Urban Forms and Civic Space in Nineteenth- to Early Twentieth-Century Bangkok and Rangoon’. Journal of Urban History 2014 40(1), 158-177
NOONBANJONG, K. (2014) ‘A Comparative Study on the Politics of Representation at Wat Benchama Bophit and Wat Phra Sri Mahathat, Bangkhen’. Bangkok: King Mongkut’s Instiutute of Technology Ladkrabang.