A recent letter bemoaning the number of
shopping centers going up around Chiang Mai was starkly offset by a local
businessman’s recent comments to me extolling the benefits of the shopping
centers and his hopes that another ring road would go in around the
outskirts of the city.
It got me thinking, is growth a “good thing” or a “bad thing”? I confess
that while I am not a huge fan of most growth, I realize there is an
inevitability to growth and change that cannot be fought but can be managed
properly. I feel that the people in government can best serve this city and
the people in it by ensuring that the growth is not damaging to the old
city, the environment and the people who call Chiang Mai home.
The first step must surely be design standards. I am from the United States
where for far too long design standards of any kind were ignored and cookie
cutter cardboard cutouts of housing developments filled the land, generic
big box stores and ugly shopping centers make many cities appear identical
and utterly lacking in any kind of charm. Not a fate anyone wants for Chiang
Mai. So, enact design standards for all new buildings going up, regardless
of where they are in the city but especially for the old part of the town.
Secondly, growth must be implemented wisely, so that we don’t end up with
the same things repeating themselves all over the city. Additionally any new
projects must study both neighborhood issues and traffic flow and offer
solutions before the problems occur.
A perfect example of this is the new giant shopping center going up at the
Rin Kham intersection on the Superhighway and Huay Kaew Road. The traffic at
this intersection is already amazingly bad and most times of the day there
is a back up of cars. The police manually control the lights, often letting
them run for a very long time, backing traffic up even more. How is this
going to work when the shopping center opens? Are there plans to allow
pedestrians to cross this intersection? This intersection is already quite
difficult for pedestrians and drivers (I like to call it the longest light
on the planet) I can imagine how bad it will be when the mall opens. The
nightmare of trying to get into Central Airport Plaza’s parking area a
perfect example as traffic backs up with those trying to get in and those
trying to get over.
The increased traffic on the city streets will see increased wear and tear
on already heavily trafficked roads, will there be an increase in budget
from the national government to repair our roads as well? Will proper
traffic lights be put in? Pedestrian overpasses?
Increased growth brings increased pollution, this when there are two months
out of the year when Chiang Mai is quite polluted and the air so bad that
many develop breathing problems. What plans does the central government have
to effectively tackle this problem? One that will surely see an increase
with the increased number of cars, trucks and buses in the city.
And finally, the words on everyone’s lips; mass public transit. The red bus
system cannot effectively serve this increased growth. I hope we will not
see the gridlock that crippled Bangkok in the 80s and 90s in Chiang Mai
before the central government authorizes and builds the mass transit this
city so desperately needs.