Home News Smoggy Bangkok desperately needs a breath of fresh air

Smoggy Bangkok desperately needs a breath of fresh air

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For more than half a century, Thailand’s state-owned Tobacco Monopoly has mass-produced cigarettes in a sprawling industrial zone in Bangkok. A steady stream of heavy trucks brings raw tobacco into the city center, hauling away millions of cigarettes.

But now this cancer-inducing complex has been replaced by something entirely different: green spaces that bring a breath of fresh air to Bangkok’s crowded and often smoggy heart.

The renovation was a stunning success, creating a 102-acre oasis for city dwellers. The site is an expansion of the existing Benjakitti Park and includes a mile-long elevated walkway, wetlands to purify water, 8,000 new trees, pickleball and basketball courts, and a dog walking area.

The pedestrian walkway “Skywalk” is especially popular with young people. At sunset, as the heat of the day recedes, the place is often crowded with tourists, many posing for photos.

“Benjakiti Park is one of my favorite places to take photos,” says freelance photographer Pongsaton Tatone, who was filming a group of college graduates frolicking in their formal attire on the Skywalk. “It’s a very popular place.”

The new area of ​​the park will be officially opened in August 2022 to celebrate the 90th birthday of Queen Sirikit, the Queen Mother of Thailand. Some attractions are not yet complete, including the museum.

It is unusual for a large city to add large tracts of new parkland, especially in densely populated Southeast Asia. The $20 million expansion is nearly twice the size of the original park, which featured a lake and a popular jogging trail.

Bangkok, with its 11 million inhabitants, needs more places like this. A 2022 report found that the city did not meet the World Health Organization’s minimum standard of 9 square meters (about 97 square feet) of green space per person in urban areas.

Like New York’s Central Park, Benjakti is surrounded by skyscrapers. It’s just a few blocks from Sukhumvit Road, one of the most congested streets in the city. The air on Sukhumvit Road is filled with car fumes as pedestrians walk along the busy sidewalk, past office buildings, hotels, vertical malls, street vendors and the occasional beggar.

Mateusz Tatara, a software product designer from Poland, said he was surprised to stumble upon a forest park in the heart of the city, known for its majestic temples, street food and lively Well-known as an entertainment venue now, Cannabis store.

“Even now, we can hear the sounds of nature,” Mr. Tatara said during an evening visit to the park. “It’s a quiet, cold place.”

Just then, a flying fox – a large fruit bat with a fox face – flew overhead and landed in a nearby tree.

“When you think of Bangkok,” Mr. Tatara said, “it’s not the first thing that comes to mind.”

The government designated the tobacco factory site as parkland in the early 1990s, and the first part of Benjakitti opened shortly after. But a quarter of a century passed before the state-owned company (then the Thai Tobacco Monopoly) handed over the entire site.

Prayut Chan-ochachief of army staff Seized power in 2014 coup and became Prime Minister, taking a personal interest in the expansion of the park, although he Crackdown on pro-democracy protests. He called for a creative approach to park design (he suggested dog walking areas, a rarity in Bangkok).

In order to speed up construction during the epidemic, the Prayuth government used the military. As many as 400 soldiers were involved in the project at one time.

“The soldiers did everything,” said Chatchanin Sung, a landscape architect who helped design the new section. “They’re really proud of this park.”

Bangkok borders the Gulf of Thailand and is built on marshland. The flood-prone city once had so many canals that Europeans dubbed it the Venice of the East. Over time, many canals were leveled and others became polluted backwaters.

a smelly canal sewage polluted Khlong Phaiisingto was developed as a water source for the new park wetland. Water is pumped from canals into a series of pools and channels, where sunlight and vegetation help clean the water.

The smell dissipates before the water reaches the wetland’s main pond, which is filled with lotus flowers and other aquatic plants. As the water reaches the far end of the park, the remaining sediment settles to the bottom. After four days, it was clean enough to be used for irrigation.

“Nature balances itself,” Ms. Chachanin said during an afternoon walk in the park. “We didn’t expect it to work so well.”

Soldiers built 500 islands in the wetland using concrete blocks salvaged from demolished factory buildings as foundations. They also planted over 400 different species of trees.

The expanded park was a self-sustaining ecosystem that quickly attracted wildlife including storks, herons, snakemonitor lizards and dragonflies, which can eat more than 100 mosquitoes a day.

Its centerpiece, the Skywalk, meanders and gently undulates above the wetlands. “When you’re walking on it, you never see the final destination, so it makes you want to keep walking and see what happens next,” Ms. Chachanin said.

Only four buildings remain of the huge tobacco factory that once devastated central Bangkok. Three of them have been converted into sports facilities. All four rooms were opened to the outside, with parts of the walls and roof removed – a novel approach Ms Chachanin calls natural air conditioning.

Some of the rafters were left in place, like the skeleton of the factory. Newly planted trees have grown through them.

“If you stand in the building,” Ms. Chachanin said, “you can see nature all around you.”

Muktita Suhartono Contributed reporting.

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