New park in downtown Bangkok gives Thais much needed green space

New park in downtown Bangkok gives Thais much needed green space

BANGKOK (AP) – Filled with trees, lakes, plants and birds, a new downtown park is delighting residents of Thailand’s bustling and congested capital. Every day, crowds flock to Benjakitti Forest Park to get a taste of nature in the heart of Bangkok.

It is part of an effort to create a greener and more livable Bangkok by 2030, bringing shade, peace and tranquility to the hot and cacophonous city.

Another park adjacent to the site was built in the 1990s, with a vast artificial lake. But the new 41-hectare (101-acre) semi-wild expanse captured the capital’s imagination. On weekends, up to 12,000 people a day use its nature trail, walkways and bike paths, snapping photos from their viewing platforms to populate their social media feeds.

The site was formerly home to the factories of Thailand’s state-owned tobacco monopoly. A phased transformation began several years ago, and this year visitors began to flock ahead of the planned official opening in August. The hum of the machines ceased, replaced by birdsong and the chirping of frogs. Even the rumble of nearby traffic turns into an almost imperceptible hum.

“I love it,” said music teacher Lucachachai Krichnoi, 44, who expressed his aversion to air-conditioned rooms and shopping malls. “I love the outdoors and fresh air. Bangkok doesn’t have that many big parks. I’m glad we have this beautiful space.”

The design mixes the old with the new. The architects kept more than 1,700 of the site’s original mature trees, then planted nearly 7,000 more – most of them seedlings – to create pockets of forest throughout the park. As they age, their foliage grows and spreads, deepening the cover.

The park is already a hit with nature lovers like bird watcher and photographer Somsak Jaitrong, who said he visits almost every day and has seen more than 40 species so far, although others have told much more.

“The way they designed the park is quite special because they put all kinds of trees here,” he said. “You know, birds go where the food is, right.”

Water plays a central role. A series of lagoons and islands create a wildlife-friendly swamp environment and also act as a treatment system, filtering wastewater from nearby communities.

According to one of the designers, reviving the city’s residents’ relationship with the natural world was one of his goals. The park’s green will wax and wane with the seasons, just like in nature.

Landscape architect Chatchanin Sung said the green space can be more than just a place to run or jog if it makes people aware of the environment and promotes coexistence with nature.

Surrounded by concrete and steel, the city’s residents currently enjoy just 7 square meters (75 square feet) of urban green space per capita, according to the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority.

The goal is to increase this to 10 square meters (108 square feet) by 2030 through a much-lauded park-building program and planting more trees.

But Bangkok’s real problem, one expert argues, is not the average amount of space, but its distribution. The new showcase park highlights this point.

“The Benjakitti Park (is) located in the area where the green area per capita is much larger than other areas. So yeah, the park is really cool, really pretty, I love it, but what about the other neighborhoods?” said Niramon Serisakul, director of the Center for Urban Development and Design at Chulalongkorn University.

“Should the BMA – I mean the government authority that owns the land – consider building this type of park in the other districts that don’t already have this type of space?” she said.

Six kilometers (3.7 miles) from the blissful outskirts of Benjakitti, another patch of greenery stretches across Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River. At sunset, despite the traffic noise, it is a magnet, offering stunning views and a cool breeze.

Chao Phraya Sky Park, 280 meters long, was created two years ago from a bridge that was built but never used. Bangkok needs more of this kind of creative use of derelict and empty spaces, Niramon argued, to address the lack of urban green spaces more equitably.

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