Landscape Point of View in Revitalizing Shrinking Cities II

Kenya Endo (MLA I)

Project Overview

This document is the final report of the Penny White proposal titled “Landscape Point of View in Revitalizing Shrinking Cities II”, submitted October, 19, 2010. The proposal was to visit the outskirt of rapidly growing city, Bangkok, Thailand, and to investigate the positive and negative effects of coexistence of urban and rural landuses (in this particular case “farmlands”). As the proposal document describes, the onsite survey attempts to analyze the interactions between intense mixture of urban and rural landuses and to understand how to juxtapose these two totally different landuses with a mutual beneficial system.

Comparison of urban development patterns in Nonthaburi and Rangsit province provides an interesting understanding of the relationships of urban and rural landuses. Well-planned infrastructural network, represented in Rangsit Canal and rectangular-shaped farmlands in Rangsit province can be understood as more adaptable landuse strategy for urbanization. This is because the existing backbone infrastructure will not allow chaotic mixture of farmlands and urban developments.

In contrast, traditional landuse system of agro-forestry in Nonthaburi is vulnerable to urbanization. Scattered and unplanned developments can ruin the entire agricultural activities in the region even though there is a large potential for becoming a robust farming site.

Project Information

Introduction
This document is the final report of the Penny White proposal titled “Landscape Point of View in Revitalizing Shrinking Cities II”, submitted October, 19, 2010. The proposal was to visit the outskirt of rapidly growing city, Bangkok, Thailand, and to investigate the positive and negative effects of coexistence of urban and rural landuses (in this particular case farmlands). As the proposal document describes, the onsite survey attempts to analyze the interactions between the intense mixture of urban and rural landuses and to understand how to juxtapose these two totally different landuses with a mutual beneficial system.

Urbanization at the outskirt of Bangkok Metropolitan Region (BMR) is occurring in an alarming rate, and the farmlands are quickly converting to new developments such as gated-communities and apartments. In addition, most of the Southeast Asian countries traditionally did not have zoning plans, thus having Desa-Kota landscape (meaning village-city), which is an intense coexistence of urban and rural landuses.

The onsite study focused on the two areas in the suburb of BMR, Nonthaburi Province and Rangsit Province. The survey was carried out from December 21st to 23 rd, 2012 by visiting two provinces with Professor Davivongs Vudipong, who works at Kasetsart University, Faculty of Architecture, specialized in landscape architecture. Interviews and questions to professor Vudipong as well as to the local farmers were conveyed during the visit. The route of the visit is shown in figure1, illustrating the 100km travel throughout the outskirt of BMR. Zoom-in aerial image of Nonthaburi is figure2 and Rangsit in figure3. Nonthaburi is a province located northwest of Bangkok, Rangsit northeast of Bangkok, both 30 minute-drive from the center. Because of the migration from all over the country, nearby countries such as Cambodia and Myanmar, population growth at the outskirt of BMR is high, thus housing demand is also high. The train and subways (mass public transportation) system is still under construction so the only means to the city from both provinces is to drive. Even though both Nonthaburi and Rangsit have the similar distance from the city center and are experiencing rapid suburban developments, their patterns and effects on the surrounding farmlands are totally different.

Traditional Agro-forestry in Nonthaburi Province

Nonthaburi province is located directly northwest of Bangkok on the Chao Phraya River. As being adjacent to Bangkok, Nonthaburi is known for producing high profit products such as durians and fruit trees for the city. Well-maintained orchards can be seen along the canals and Chao Phraya River, but at the same time, Nonthaburi province has been one of the most rapidly urbanizing areas in Thailand.

In Nonthaburi province, we visited the orchards that conduct traditional agro-forestry practice. As the figure 4,5 show, orchards consist of various types of fruit trees, such as bananas, durian trees and palm trees. These plots usually require high maintenance since various products are planted in multi-layer; shrubs to tall trees (product combination depends on each farmer). Some non-edible trees are also planted together for the purpose of providing shades and stabilizing nutrients. The orchards need to be irrigated all the time, so they are located closer to the canals. Whereas patty fields are located further away from the canals, since they require seasonal irrigation.

The site where we visited had an irregular shape and size of farmlands. From the interview, the new vehicle roads that we drove were constructed between the two properties, thus, as the figure 8 shows, typical roads were meandering intensely and disconnected at many places. Since the region historically relied on taking boats along the canals for transportation, roads were actually constructed recently parallel to the urban developments that are taking place one place to another.

Areas with disordered farmlands like in Nonthaburi, the impact to the farmlands by the urban development is significant. New residential developments (figure 6,7) are likely to split the canal system that brings water to further inland from the main canal. The lack of irrigation water is critical issue for harvesting. In addition, farmers explained to us that the garbage and wastes from the settlements have been a significant threat for the farming activities.

Due to the lack of strict zoning and development regulations by the government, the plots are fairly easy to be developed. Zoning plans are established every 5 years and they are basically in a regional-scale, rather than a minute community-scale. And interestingly, during the transition period, many developments occur since the regulation becomes loose and development permissions pass through easily. Therefore, development regulation needs to be reconsidered, because the current state allows chaotic urban development, which gives a negative impact to the farmlands nearby, such as disconnecting the water network, contaminating the water and soil.

Especially, durians produced in Nonthaburi has a high value and because the site’s proximity to the city, farming activities in Nonthaburi potentially provides high profit for the farmers. Figure 9 shows one of the floating markets along the tributary canal close to Bangkok city center, where many city dwellers, tourists visit to purchase local products. Therefore, it is possible to coexist both farmlands and urban landuses. However, in order to achieve this goal, there needs to be a comprehensive understanding of the hydro-network around the area. Moreover, the interactions between urban dwellers and farmers can be enhanced more by, for example establishing a system of composting, urban farming activities.

Lastly I wanted to touch upon the flooding happened in 2011. Since the property along the canals are fragmented and owned by each individual, it is difficult to implement an overarching flood protection measurement. The vulnerability to flooding is also a threat for farmers who wish to continue their farming activities. Some of the farmlands had a preliminary dike around the plot (figure 10). From the interview to the local farmer, high profit products, such as durian trees were vulnerable to flooding so many trees were cut down this year. Minimum 5 years are required for harvesting durian fruits.

Modern Canal System in Rangsit Province

In contrast to Nonthaburi Province, Rangsit Province has an extensive canal system for irrigation that was constructed in 1890, called Rangsit Canal built as honor of King RamaV’s son Rangsit, Prince of Chainat. The 60km-long main canal starts at the east bank of Chao-Phraya River and runs eastward passing fertile patty fields, terminates into the Nakhon Nayok River.16 sub-canals that runs perpendicular to the main canal provides irrigation water for the patty fields (Figure11). Sub-canals are located approximately every 2.5km. Due to the systemic canal network, the properties of typical farmlands have a long-rectangular shape. Each plot has an access point to the canal to introduce water. Typical plot consists of a small space of housing and orchard close to the canal and patty fields being located further away from the canal. Interestingly, the urban development occurs along the Rangsit Canal is typically long-rectangular shape as figure 12,13 show.

Although the mixture of patty fields and urban plots are intense, the negative impacts from the urban landuses to the farmlands seem to be much less than the case of Nonthaburi. This is because the canal system had already existed as a backbone infrastructure of the area, and urban development followed the basic structure. Hence, the urban development did not split the water network. This is why I understood the presence of the extensive canal system allowed an adaptable urbanization to the existing farmlands.
Following the urbanization, the electricity is also brought extensively to the area. Rural electrification is usually fiscally difficult but it seemed that transmission lines were brought to the area due to the rapid urbanization. The introduction of electricity can be seen as a benefit for the existing farmers.
In terms of the new housing developments, they tend to be gated communities, but the area we visited was no longer gated. The property used to be a gated community but soon after residents start rejecting to chip in for paying the cost for the road maintenance, the property became public. We heard that the main road was donated to the province.

Conclusion

Comparison of urban development patterns in Nonthaburi and Rangsit province provides an interesting understanding of the relationships of urban and rural landuses. Well-planned infrastructural network, represented in Rangsit Canal and rectangular-shaped farmlands in Rangsit province can be understood as more adaptable landuse strategy for urbanization. This is because the existing backbone infrastructure won’t allow chaotic mixture of farmlands and urban developments. Thus, water network will not be separated by the urbanization, or even it got separated, the network can be easily bypassed.

In contrast, traditional landuse system of agro-forestry in Nonthaburi is vulnerable to urbanization. Scattered and unplanned developments can potentially ruin the entire agricultural activities in the region. Because of the proximity to the market and the branding of fruit tree products, Nonthaburi can become robust farming site. In order to find the balance between farming and urban developments, I think it is important to evaluate the role of agro-forestry and take practical measures to protect its value. For example, the orchards and permeable surfaces along the river must be serving as flood mitigation buffer. By understanding the multi-functionality of the traditional agro-forestry, much more respect can be paid for them, and this can protect from the chaotic urban development.

Lastly, the mixture of urban and rural landuses is not well understood in a society with modern zoning system, such as in USA or European cities. The visit to and survey in Bangkok provided a profound insight of the actual spatial implication and its process of juxtaposing urban and rural landuses. Not only the study of the spatial pattern but also the study of the social interactions between the urban and rural landuses could provide deeper understanding of the Desa-Kota landscape.

Contact Information

Kenya Endo

kendo@gsd.harvard.edu

unikeni@gmail.com

References/bibliography

Rangsit Canal Diagram; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rangsit_Canal

Google Earth