02. The future of Nang Loeng
Updated: Oct 21, 2022
Our USL forum's new article, "the future of Nang Loeng" by our founder/director Pongpisit Huyakorn, summarised the current challenges that, Nang Loeng, one of the oldest community in Bangkok is facing. Though the studied community is local and genuine, the issues resonate to the globals: gentrification and ageing society. The writer also suggests community-based solutions to tackle them.
บทความใหม่จาก Urban Studies Lab พูดถึงความท้าทายต่างๆที่ชุมชนเก่าแก่อย่างนางเลิ้งกำลังต้องเจออยู่ ไม่ว่าจะเป็นการ gentrification (ดู lecture อ.จาตุรงค์ด้านล่างประกอบคำอธิบาย) หรือปัญหาช่องว่างระหว่างวัยที่กำลังเกิดขึ้น โดยผู้เขียนได้เสนอแนวทางแก้ไข ผ่านพื้นที่สำหรับทำกิจกรรมของคนในชุมชนเอาไว้ในบทความด้วย
As Nang Loeng’s location act as a buffer zone between Bangkok’s old town and the Central Business District, still affordable land and building prices, and also with the arrival of new public transit and groups of new business activity, Nang Loeng ticked off all the list of a zone in risk of being gentrified. Although, gentrification could bring both positive and negative impacts into any neighborhood, But most of its negative impacts were the main concerns, especially the social aspects. Nang Loeng neighborhood is at a crossroad, and the rich Thai socio-cultural legacies which include traditional dances and performances, architect heritages, food culture are at risk of being faded away.
For the past six months, the author has been engaging and learning from Nang Loeng and its people. Nang Loeng is surprisingly unique due to the robust and resilient local network, as well as the new business owners who wanted to invest and revitalize the area. He likewise confirmed several points past community studies have pointed out; a lack of decent quality public space and a lack of supporting network to transfer much-needed skills to the residents are some outstanding issues yet to be properly solved/ remedied. Beyond that, the author may have found deeper roots of Nang Loeng’s problems, a lack of representatives who can interface the residents to external circles, a lack of common goal that is established by the majority of the local population, aging population and disappearing younger generation who will inherit Nang Loeng’s legacy.
Just to share and raise some of the problems, there are growing tensions about tourism-related activities in the area. Similar to other local communities throughout Bangkok old town, there are many so-called community-based tourism activities. Sadly, there is no way to confirm whether this is truly a sustainable solution or not, how can it benefit the whole neighborhood? Or could it trigger more gentrification? Talking to some of the local residents, there are benefits and it helped some of the local business. But many people were quite concerned and voiced their discontent that it disturbed them and benefit only limited group of people.
Another concerning issue is the widening gap between generations which is the effect of the aging society, different lifestyles. The vibe of suburban community in the neighborhood such as Wat Sunthornthammatharn community that the locals are very close and often gather at the temple as the center of the community, in contrast to other group such as medium-to-high income households that rarely interact with their neighbor. Worryingly, there is limited opportunity and incentive for the youth to stay on. As well as varying space that different groups use, for example the elders tend to use the space in front of their house, the traditional Thai café, while the youth like to hang out in the space next to the canal. Also, the outsiders, tourists and office workers can be found in Nang Loeng market and cafés, especially during lunch time.
Nang Loeng’s situation may seem complex but it is not impossible. The locals still stand strong and continue to work toward a better future for themselves. But this does not mean that help from outsiders is not needed. They are well aware of their gaps. They understand what others can bring to the table, be it resources, knowledge, or skills that can help them overcome the things afflicting them. They need to be heard, properly engaged, and partnered with to manage through any upcoming obstacles.
While the author could only scratch the surface of the issue, he believes that one of the possible solution can be an inclusive mix-used public space which is suitable for networking and relationship building activities to bridge the old and younger generations as well as the newcomers in the area. This can host capacity building and educational activity to guide the youth, co-creation activity to initiate partnerships with the locals and draw the public-private partnership investment, and could be the platform for better and fairer community-based participatory events. Other option could be fostering a local champion who can interact, and can be the mediator between Nang Loeng and outsider, also leveraging for Nang Loeng as a whole. The collaboration between the robust local community network and the conscious newcomer will be an integral force for Nang Loeng to encounter gentrification now and in the near future.