(1990-2009) Social Impact of BTS skytrain

By looking at a recent case of development in Bangkok, the social impact of Skytrain are discussed. The district of Klongsan was chosen for the case study because the BTS Skytrain line here opened relatively recently in 2009 , and hence the effects of Skytrain to the people of the area would be more apparent. Interviews were conducted on residents from condominium units and local neighbours respectively.

 

New condominiums around Krung Thon Buri BTS station. (Source: Moore, Russell David)
New condominiums around Krung Thon Buri BTS station. (Source: Moore, Russell David)

 

Social fragmentation and loss of district identity

According to the research conducted, the district was originally inhabited historically with working class with predominantly lower-income. The new condominiums residents are mostly educated young professionals with higher income. Their pattern of living are different. The new residents tend to consume and work in commercial areas away from the district, making use of the efficient Skytrain system. They see the rest of the district as “dangerous”, with little intention to get in touch with the other members of the neighbourhood or engage in commercial activities in the smaller alleys, which are traditional way of life of Bangkok people. Almost all of these new residents have no friends and family in the area.

Such phenomenon will lead to the gradual loss of individual district identity. The newly developed area are flourished with International standardized commercial activities, such as shopping malls and franchise hotel brands. This is expected to result in mostly homogenous city image and life and destruction of the rich local Thai culture. This also lead to the fragmentation of the society, where different social group have huge diversity in their way of living despite living in proximity, leading to weaker collective belonging to the place.

Street food in Bangkok is a major local culture (Source: SCMP)
Street food in Bangkok is a major local culture (Source: SCMP)

 

Direct and indirect Displacement

The direct result of more economic development is the rise in land price. The majority of the local residents are renting their homes. As a result, higher rent would make living in the neighbourhood unaffordable. In some cases, their renting contract was terminated to make space for new development and was forced to leave with little or even no compensation. These people had been living for decades and they lost connection with the friends and neighbours.They also have difficulties in securing another housing elsewhere. These vulnerable members of the society are sacrificed in the name of economic development and there is little intervention from the Bangkok Authorities in safeguarding their interest.

Change in family structure

Most condominium residents are single or couple families, where as the local residents live with an extended and bigger family. This is coherent with the smaller size of condo units and relatively higher land price. With limited living space, the family size are expected to remain small and the traditional family values could no longer be found. This is a proliferating phenomenon in many Asian cities.

Despite the development of BTS skytrain has significantly improved the quality of living in various districts, there is a problem of uneven development. The major commercial areas performs like a “storefront” of the city in a linear form, with decaying urban fabric hiding just behind the modern development. Although the government have been setting up agencies such as Community Organization Development Institute (CODI) to look into the issue, there is a still a long way to solve the problem of urban slum.

 

Informal settlements along the canals near the busy Thanon Phetchaburi, less than one kilometer from the luxurious Siam Paragon Shopping Center. (Source: Polis)
Informal settlements along the canals near the busy Thanon Phetchaburi, less than one kilometer from the luxurious Siam Paragon Shopping Center. (Source: Polis)

 

Reference

Moore, Russell David. “Gentrification and Displacement: The Impacts of Mass Transit in Bangkok.” Urban Policy and Research 33, no. 4 (2015): 472-89. doi:10.1080/08111146.2015.1028615.

Sánchez-Cuenca, Jordi. “Uneven Development in Bangkok.” Polis.  http://www.thepolisblog.org/2012/10/uneven-development-in-bangkok.html.

SCMP. “Where to Find Bangkok’s Best Street Food – before Gentrification Sweeps Stalls Away.” South China Morning Post, May 05, 2016. http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/food-drink/article/1941138/where-find-bangkoks-best-street-food-gentrification-sweeps.

3 Comments on “(1990-2009) Social Impact of BTS skytrain

  1. It is clear that the introduction of BTS Skytrain will influence the city of Bangkok in different social aspects. In fact, it is always a debatable issue that whether the introduction of mass transit railway systems to the inner or older districts in a city is a opportunity or a threat to the local residents. The infrastructure will definitely brings up the economy but how could the citizens afford the living? This is a issue that every city in the world has to tackle, as the people with lower socio-economic status being continuously suppressed would only marginalize them. It would be great if more paragraphs are discussing on how the urban planning strategies could help people in this social sector.

  2. Transformation of the urban form is consecutive through time and marks various layers on urban fabric. As part of the infrastructure, the introduction of BTS Skytrain line truly cuts through the current urban fabric and even the local life. It is quite interesting to see the change of local people life style and the demography of surrounding areas. There’s always a dilemma between the intervention of urban infrastructure and the original urban fabric. It seems that in this case, the infrastructure is more beneficial to the government. As related in the other post, the BTS is not prepared for the lower income group due to its high ticket price. The increasing land price squeeze away the local residents and in a foreseeable future, the demographic structure and buildings along the line would eventually change because of this unneglectable urban intervention.

  3. Transportation system is one of the most crucial part in a city. The role of massive transit system is to connect people in the city. However, the BTS Skytrain line does not fulfill the objective. As mentioned in the other post, it mainly serves the business area and high-end residential district. A number of people in Bangkok can’t afford the high ticket price, so the vehicle circulation is still the dominant transportation. As mentioned in the post, it cuts through the city but aggravates the conflicts of the society. So I think the position to develop massive transit system is quite significant.

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