Mon, Oct 08, 2018 - Page 8 News List

As Bangkok sinks, could this anti-flood park be the answer?

Vast underground reservoirs beneath the city’s Centenary Park can store one million gallons of water

By Jamie Fullerton  /  The Guardian

A boy runs through a flooded road in the Phunpin district of Surat Thani province, south of Bangkok.

Photo: Reuters

Bangkok is sinking — fast. As urban development continues unabated, this city of more than 10 million people is getting lower by 2cm a year, according to Greenpeace estimates. Meanwhile, the surface of the Gulf of Thailand is rising by 4mm a year — above the global average.

With the Thai capital currently approximately 1.5 meters above sea level, the specters of the 2011 floods that inundated the city and those of last year that killed 1,200 people in India, Nepal and Bangladesh loom large. Recent rainwater floods, plus a UN preparatory meeting on climate change hosted in Bangkok, pushed concerns to the surface once more.

“When I was young I liked floods,” says the architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom, who was born in the city. “I pushed my little boat out and the road became a canal, it was such fun. But after 2011 everyone was like, ‘Oh. What used to be childhood fun has become a disaster.’ And it’s getting worse.”

WATER RETENTION

In 2011, Thailand suffered its worst flooding in 50 years. Climate scientist Seri Suptharathit predicts the city will be mostly underwater by the end of the century.

Voraakhom’s ingenious answer was the 4.5-hectare Centenary Park at Chulalongkorn University in the center of the city. Hidden beneath the trees and grass lies its most interesting feature: vast underground water containers that, along with a large pond, can hold a million gallons of water.

Under normal conditions, water that is not absorbed by plants flows into these receptacles, where it is stored for watering during dry periods.

When severe floods hit, the containers hold water and release it into the public sewage system after flooding has subsided. Voraakhom and her architecture firm Landprocess will open a 14.5-acre park with similar water retention functions at Bangkok’s Thammasat University next year.

Centenary Park is also a welcome glimpse of grass in a metropolis that, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Green City Index , has just 3.3 square meters of green space per resident. That compares with 27 square meters in London and 66 square meters in Singapore. Dr Seri Suptharathit, director of the Center on Climate Change and Disaster at Bangkok’s Rangsit University, says even more green has been turned gray since that survey took place in 2011. He says that in the past 20 years the amount of green space in Bangkok has dropped from 40 percent of total land to less than 10 percent — exacerbating flood risk.

‘MONKEY CHEEKS’

Walking around Centenary Park, which opened last year on a site on the Chao Phraya delta previously occupied by university residential buildings, Voraakhom points out trees, and an education center with a lawn roof and herb garden.

“One time last year we had six hours of heavy rainfall and all the roads around here were flooded,” says Voraakhom. “But the park still held the water.”

Her design ethos fits with the “monkey cheeks” water retention initiative pushed by Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej before he died in 2016. Just as monkeys stuff their cheeks with banana, saving the fruit mush for later, the monarch encouraged Thailand’s Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives to help prevent floods by utilizing land areas that could temporarily store water.

Suptharathit believes current flood prevention in Bangkok is too reliant on hard structures such as dams and canals. Voraakhom’s park helps, and Suptharathit proposes paying more farmers to use their land for water retention during the July-October rainy season.

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