THERE are surely few periods in Thailand’s history when the country was beset by so many problems as it faces today. In the past, those problems could be swept under the carpet or given a spin so confusing that the truth was kept out of sight. But thanks to the awesome power of the Internet, that’s no longer the case. Social media is proving supremely effective in highlighting whatever ails the nation. And right now there’s plenty of that. Politicians with their fingers in the trough can run but they can’t hide. We all know what they’re up to, be it huge ‘backhanders’ for government projects, dodgy rice schemes that enrich their administrators or the smuggling of luxury cars to avoid taxes. Also, thanks to the new media, we’ve seen wayward monks with designer gear on a private jet, as well as alternative news reports that question ‘official’ explanations of high profile murders. And it’s largely due to the Internet that the multitude of deadly scams now going on in Phuket has prompted a call by no less than 18 foreign ambassadors in Thailand for the authorities to take some remedial action. It’s wake-up time for those who are wrecking and ransacking this country. The eyes of the world are on you.
SPARE a thought for home owners whose next door neighbours decide it’s time to cash in on their land and sell off their property to developers who in turn set about building multi-storey condominiums or, worse, huge shopping malls on their new acquisition. From that moment, the lives of home owners who resist selling up change forever - and nobody in their right mind can believe it’s for the good.
For years, this kind of urbanization has happened right across Bangkok. Once tranquil streets and lanes, dotted with pleasant low-rise houses and gardens, have been transformed into concrete canyons, with condos packed on either side of the thoroughfare, blocking out the sun, the wind and views of the horizon (which are surely essential for the body’s equilibrium). Even if it is a normal phenomenon seen in every other expanding city across the globe, it also explains why Bangkok is not only less charming these days but also much hotter than in the past.
Sukhumvit is obviously the area most affected by this phenomenon. So many condos are popping up along its way that some sections are beginning to resemble Hong Kong’s dreadful cheek-by-jowl urban sprawl. Many ridiculously narrow side streets are also being gobbled by developers who are now permitted to build as high as eight storeys. Of course, it can be argued that existing property owners have benefited enormously by the staggering increase in land values. But not everyone wants to cash in and relocate; many Sukhumvit residents want to stay in the part of Bangkok where they may have been born. Unfortunately, the pressure is on them to sell up and move on, miles away from the noise, the high-rises, the congestion, their friends and family.
Sensible city planners, if they actually exist here, should insist on measures to make life more bearable for its ordinary citizens. And they should start by increasing the distance permitted between a new building project and the border of the land it occupies. At present, that distance is too small, which, in the case of a high-rise, invariably results in a total lack of privacy for the owners of adjoining properties. In fact, new regulations on this very topic have been introduced, but there are few signs of them being implemented.
You can’t stop progress, of course, but there are many ways of making it more acceptable.