Resilient Communities on the Waterfront, Bangkok

Written by Resilient Cities Network
Tuesday, 11 July 2023
  • Survival, reinvention, and resilience define the Bang Mot Canal community.
  • The program aims to transform the lives of this group, which is representative of a traditional Thai lifestyle.
  • This will provide the framework to improve the livelihoods of other canal communities in Thailand.

Located on the outskirts of Bangkok, a city once known as the Venice of the East, Bang Mot is a multicultural and traditional community that lives along the 16 km canal of the same name. Because of their long history and the inextricable link between the canals and the city, they are custodians of the canal’s cultural heritage. For over 100 years, their main source of income has been fishing and agriculture and they were known for producing the Bang Mot tangerine, one of Thailand’s most popular fruits.

The challenge

In recent decades, water pollution, flooding, and salinization made the Bang Mot area unsuitable for farming. In 2017, with the support of the local King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT), one of Thailand’s leading research institutions, they turned the situation around and started anew. They registered two companies to promote community participation, develop a sustainable economy, preserve identity and multiculturalism, and protect the environment.

In the process, the community members opened a community market, launched an annual cultural festival, and offered tourists activities such as food tastings, canal cruises, and handicraft workshops. The main path along the canal was also improved and extended, with support from the government, turning it into a running and cycling path frequently used by locals while enhancing accessibility to the area. But all of this came to a halt with Covid-19, and many households once again lost their jobs and source of income in the midst of the pandemic. This time, the severity of the situation pushed their resilience to the limit.

Bangkok’s solution

In January 2021, the Thai government launched its innovative Bio-Circular-Green Economy (BCG) policy as a strategy for national development and post-pandemic recovery. The strategy aims to be guided by a holistic approach that embraces technology and innovation to create value, reduce waste, and promote sustainable business models.

The BCG model focuses on four strategic sectors: agriculture and food; wellness and medicine; energy, materials, and biochemicals; and tourism and creative economy. Within this framework, eco-tourism is proposed as a solution for improving the lives of local communities and the quality of the environment, ultimately building community resilience. In this way, Thailand began to turn a vulnerability into an opportunity. The Bang Mot community did so with the support of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and the Resilient Cities Network’s Catalyzing City Resilience Solutions (CCRS) program.

Both organizations were interested in revitalizing Bang Mot’s economic activity by promoting an authentic Thai lifestyle and sustainable practices. All the stakeholders together, including the Bang Mot community, agreed on three pilot interventions: the design of a community website to offer services and products to visitors; the creation of a community tourism standard to assess the carbon footprint, safety, and energy efficiency of businesses; and the development of a discussion forum between the community and city staff to address issues related to canal infrastructure such as piers, water pollution or waste disposal.

Through these initiatives, the program aimed to position the Bang Mot community as an emerging cultural and sustainable tourism destination, while improving economic resilience and addressing environmental concerns.

Our impact

Throughout the first half of 2023, the new “Green Blue Rest Bangkok” website was active in attracting visitors to the area. This led to an influx of eco-tourists, with an offer that included traditional boat tours and visits to organic farms and fruit orchards – while large-scale farming is no longer possible in the area, residents are keeping small, old orchards alive for tourism and educational purposes. In total, the project brought 140 new tourists to the area and engaged with 12 small business from the community.

As the CCRS program moves forward, the area has also been prepared as a prototype for a creative district with budget support from BMA. KMUTT will also continue to work with BMA to develop a blue-green economy with all the canal communities in Bangkok, with the belief that this model can be replicated to build resilient economies in other waterfront communities beyond Bangkok in Thailand.

In Bangkok, Resilient Cities Network is running the Catalyzing City Resilience Solutions program with support from the Citi Foundation to help the local economy recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. This recovery will catalyze urban resilience by empowering and strengthening a selection of critical small and medium enterprise (SMEs) to develop locally relevant solutions.

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