Landscape architect Yossapol Boonsom, 38, launched the non-profit organization Friends of the River (FOR) in a bid to prevent construction of the Chao Phraya Riverside Promenade. This highly-divisive, B1.4 billion government project will see 14km of the river turned into a walkway and bike lane. Its detractors say not enough thought has gone into either the aesthetic or environmental consequences of such a massive construction project. Here, Yossapol discusses how the promenade could change Bangkok’s riverside.
How important is the Chao Phraya for most people’s daily life?
We have neglected the Chao Phraya River. We’ve been destroying it unawares for years. For example, when the flood occurred, we just conceded and let a two-meter-high barrage of water tear local communities and the river apart. There’s no cultural bond left between the riverside and people; nowadays it’s just a drain.
How do you see the new promenade causing more damage to the river?
Even at the moment, many attractions like temples, mosques and other buildings are obscured—nobody even realizes that they are there. If the promenade is built, tourism will definitely face a big problem. Most tourists are keen to see the beautiful spots along the river, but to build such a large stanchion would deny them that privilege. It will only bring more Starbucks and more McDonalds. The public does not want another Asiatique; we want preservation of Bangkok’s heritage.
How would you rather see the budget spent?
The project could be invaluable if it were planned more logically. Let the public and residents of the riverside express what they want. If we’re going to have a promenade, it should be well connected with the surrounding areas. For instance, would it not be more effective to connect the existing communities with the promenade by extending the bike lane around them. That way, tourists could get a chance to explore real Thai cultural heritage. Plans like this are only going to make people increasingly mistrustful of the government. I feel sorry that public money is being wasted.
What is FOR’s next move?
At the end of this month, we expect 7,500 supporters to sign the petition against this promenade project at Change.org in order to slow down the process of construction and ask the authorities to rethink. Apart from that, we would like to create a public space where everyone can share their opinions and make considerable progress together.
Any last words?
The Chao Phraya River is a precious gem. If we polish it and look after it, it will be worth a fortune. We can’t make any more mistakes.
To sign the petition, visit ow.ly/R8991