Charoen Krung Road is Bangkok’s first road which connected the royal compounds to the European quarters further south. Today Charoen Krung Road marks the route for the new subway line and thus Bangkok’s first road has become the fault line between the past and the future, defining Bangkok’s stance towards its past in unprecedented scope.
It’s the demarcation line of redevelopment at which Bangkok will either successfully consolidate massive infrastructure projects with cultural heritage or fail and render Bangkok’s traditional districts unrecognizable for the sake of monetary profits. The main subway station is planned to be built a stone throw away from a number of ancient Chinese communities and as a result land-prices are going to soar. The story of the Charoen Chai community is so characteristic for this age of urbanization where it seems that everything is subjected to rampant, profit orientated development. It is exemplary for the seemingly unstoppable modernization of traditional and historical city districts throughout Asia where money eliminates local opinions and needs and sidelining any interest in sustainability and preservation. The outcome of Bangkok’s story at this crossroad is seen as inevitable unless there will be much more awareness of the issue and support for the handful of people daring enough to take a stand.
This is the story of a community in Bangkok who were the pioneers of urban Bangkok, their traditional Chinese shop-houses built in synchronization with the construction of Bangkok’s first road are now most likely to be bulldozed because land-value exceeds the community’s cultural, historical and social value. For some people these neighborhoods look old and worn, for others they are part of Bangkok’s heritage and indeed these communities very well radiate the feel of old Bangkok, of living history and the architecture, art and ways of life of these communities can’t be measured in money. The eyes of profit driven investor and business counterparts however seem to be blind towards the value. The crafts and traditions that derive from the times of King Rama V are to be replaced by Bangkok’s new mask hence the internationalism of most ideally and most likely another retail-,condo development that imports the big cooperates like Starbucks in which the young people slave away for less than 40 Baht an hour burying any chances to carry on the traditional businesses of their parents. However, given Bangkok’s fancy for retro the communities’ arts, crafts and identity may be still “worthy enough” to be framed in black and white in the cafe’s interior.
Without these historically and culturally diverse realms, Bangkok would not be Bangkok, it would be deprived of its soul and as a true Bangkokian you got to raise the question whether you want to live in a soulless city!? Would you be proud of a city where visitors, (apart from Bangkok’s cultural icons), can’t find anything but image of cooperate Bangkok? We love the modern aspects of Bangkok, the cosmopolitan side and the jaw-dropping malls BUT we DON’T want to see this aspect intrude into traditional areas and turning them into another Ekkamai, hip Thonglor or a Lad Prao or Sukhumvit look-alike. This will inevitably turn Bangkok into a carbon copy of just another city modern city.
On the other side none of us however opposes the construction of the subway but given that the construction of mass-transit will come hand in hand with all the attributes of modern capitalist Bangkok we fear that without an intervening public it will (in good old tradition) flatten old, valuable neighborhoods and force their residents to relocate. We believe that such an infrastructure development should be carried out in cooperation with locals and city planners who understand the cultural value and social fabric of these community. Underground trainstation ought to be carefully embedded especially when constructed in heritage sites. Every city planner knows it, any logical person assumes it and yet to implement it has become a struggle between David and Goliath. Hindering or preventing the erosion of Bangkok’s unique urban feature while sitting by idly and crossing fingers will not help the survival of Bangkok’s cultural identity.
More needs to be done and with the Charoen Krung legacy project we aim to support the people from the Charoen Chai preservation project and others in their struggle, time is running against us, our capacity is limited but we invite all Bangkokians and Bangkok fans to support the course, connect with us on Facebook, send us a message, let us know your opinion on this for money may be easily be able to build a condominium but it can’t buy history and culture.
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