Sink or swim: Bangkok’s climate crisis

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In drawing attention to the consequences of climate change that are already occurring worldwide, pioneering landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom warned a rapt audience at the opening of the 2019 Movin’On Summit that achieving sustainable mobility is about more than improving traffic congestion, urban infrastructure or air quality: it’s about ensuring the survival of millions of people around the world. Thailand’s capital city of 15 million people could be below sea level by 2030.

 

The cost of climate change

“Bangkok is sinking more than one centimetre per year … but that is four times faster than the rate of predicted sea level rise,” warns Voraakhom, CEO of Porous City Network.

Over the past century, Bangkok’s population has exploded from under 1 million citizens to more than 8 million, with an additional 7 million in the surrounding areas. With this growth came an increase in paved streets, squares, sidewalks and other watertight concrete surfaces. A once-porous agricultural landscape, whose largely natural construction allowed for rapid and effective drainage of rain and floodwater, slowly lost its absorbent capacity, causing heavier and more frequent flood damage.

In 2011, Thailand was hit with the worst flooding in the country’s history. Millions of people were displaced or left homeless, including Voraakhom and her family. She shared with the audience striking images of the Bangkok airport drowning in an endless expanse of brown floodwater, or the presence of crocodiles on flooded downtown streets, which drove home the actual cost of the climate crisis for everyday residents of Bangkok. “15 million people — living, working and commuting on top of this shifting muddy river delta.”

 

A flood of new ideas needed to save a sinking city

As a landscape architect, she knew she had the skills to help solve this problem. When she and her team won the design competition for Chulalongkorn Centenary Park, they spent four years fighting for their vision of a beautiful 11-acre greenspace not only for public recreation, but for water management. With an inclined surface, the largest green roof in Thailand and a retention pond, the park can collect and store a 3.8 million litres of water. Water filtration is provided in part by native plants as well as by stationary bicycles that can be powered by passersby looking to get a little exercise.

Flooding, and the climate change that amplifies it, may be the new normal, but Kotchakorn is confident that we can work to find ways to live with it.

«This awareness of climate change means that we, in every profession, are obligated to make solutions together»
– Kotchakorn Voraakhom, Porous City Network


She also urged stakeholders from both public and private organizations to embark on a program of continuous action.

 

This article is based on the official opening of the 2019 Movin’On Summit by Kotchakorn Voraakhom (Porous City Network).