That Sinking Feeling

That Sinking Feeling
Bangkok is going under. Once known as the “Venice of the East” because of its canals, rice fields and waterways, it is a city built on a river delta. Its old waterways have been filled with concrete to accommodate intensive urban development, yet when it rains there’s nowhere for water to go.

The city’s geography and extreme weather events linked to climate change have made it vulnerable to flooding. In 2011 parts of the city were under water and catastrophic flooding continued for months, producing serious social and economic impacts. If all that wasn’t enough, the city is settling by one or two centimeters every year and by 2030 parts may have slumped below sea level.

Faced with a serious crisis, Bangkok’s city planners are fighting back. Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park is part of a comprehensive water management plan unveiled in June 2018. The park’s wetlands, watercourses and huge underground reservoirs in the centre of the university can hold up to one million gallons (3.8 million litres) of water, which would otherwise wash over the city’s streets. [1]

Herb gardens, trails and walkways provide points of interest and recreation activities for members of the public as they move through the park. It includes a museum with a 5,200 square metre green roof covered in plants. In the wet season these plants absorb large quantities of moisture and in the dry season tanks underneath provide water for up to a month to keep the park from drying out.

The creation of a gentle incline means that water can move through the park’s wetlands. Here plants filter out toxins as the water flows on to a retention pond at the far end of the park. In the event of severe flooding, the capacity of the retention pond can nearly double in size by expanding onto the park’s main lawn.

The park’s designer, Thai landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom, is also the founder and CEO of Porous City Network, which aims to build city resilience in the face of climate change. Her organisation hopes to boost Bangkok’s resilience and adaptability by “reclaiming urban porosity”. In a recent TED talk she spoke of turning previously impervious surfaces, like concrete roofs and bridges into green spaces, food gardens and water retention devices. PCN has developed a vision of a network of restored canals, “pocket parks”, rain gardens, urban farms, retention parks and lawns which will help Bangkok fight back against climate change, extreme weather events and sea-level rise.[2]   [1] [2]