Bang Bua Canal Community Upgrading

Exhibition: Cities | October 5, 2011 by

Thailand’s Baan Mankong (“Secure Housing” in Thai) Community Upgrading program began in 2003 to improve housing, land-tenure security, and infrastructure for all 5,500 poor urban settlements throughout Thailand. A groundbreaking, large-scale approach that places slum communities at the center of the process, it has improved conditions in 1,546 settlements in 277 cities; in Bangkok, 422 of 1,200 slums are in some stage of improvement. The successful program subsidizes infrastructure and environment upgrades as well as low-interest loans for settlement re-blocking and new housing. Squatter communities and community networks develop their upgrading plans in close collaboration with the independent public organization, Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI), and local governments, professionals, universities, and NGOs.

Three thousand four hundred families live in twelve informal communities along a thirteen-kilometer (8-mile) stretch of the Bang Bua Canal. Many live in stilt houses built directly above the polluted canal, which floods during heavy rains, and use rickety, half-meter-wide (1.6 foot-wide) bamboo and wood plank walkways that only allow one person to pass. The Bang Bua Canal community upgrading project, part of Baan Mankong, was the first canal-wide community-improvement project in Bangkok. After living with insecurity and risk of fire and eviction for close to a century, the canal-side residents, many of them vendors, laborers, and daily-wage workers, joined together in 2004 to plan its redevelopment. Self-selected groups of five households met to plan, budget, and carry out improvements. They negotiated a thirty-year renewable lease on the publicly owned land. Working with architects from nearby Sripatum University, who designed three basic house types—detached (single), semi-detached (double), and row houses—they built ninety-square-meter (970 sq. ft.) houses, often from recycled doors, timbers, and window frames. Re-blocking for similar-sized houses created a more democratic neighborhood layout, and family adjacencies kept social units connected. The stilt houses that limited access to the canal were demolished and rebuilt on the interior of the community to make way for the public access walkway along the canal, now three meters (9 ft.) wide, for playing, walking, biking, vending and emergency vehicles. The community plans to revive traditional floating markets along the canal.

The upgrade resulted in not just physical, but also many social changes in the community. Planning surveys identified elderly and disabled people who had no one to look after them, so a baan klang (“welfare house”) was built and financed by residents—a model for other communities. Residents also established a welfare fund to pay the school fees for the poorest children and classes, libraries, and play groups for all children; and even established a children’s saving group where each member saves fifteen cents a day.

Bang Bua Canal Network community, Community Organizations Development Institute, and Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, with Prayong Posriprasert, Nattawut Usavagovitwong, and Sakkarin Sapu, Sripatum University. Bang Bua, Bangkok, Thailand, 2004–present

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