International Development Planning Review

Incompatible partners? Urban poor communities and river systems in Bangkok, Thailand

International Development Planning Review (2012), 34, (2), 109–128.

Abstract

Asian cities are confronted with a range of environmental challenges with few success stories. State-driven and top-down solutions have been only partially successful, while communities struggle with developing and implementing alternative strategies that are affordable and result in safer and more liveable environments. River systems are increasingly at the centre of many of these struggles. In part this has been because current and past approaches, which often involve cleaning/beautifying waterways and ‘relocating’ the urban poor, have proven prohibitively expensive and have led to conflict with affected communities for which few alternative shelter and livelihood alternatives exist. Yet there are innovative approaches led by communities and NGOs, sometimes in partnership with governments but at other times in opposition to official projects. This paper, based on fieldwork in Bangkok, examines such ‘grey areas’ of planning, in which community-based solutions and partnerships that deal with polluted environments and seek to avoid eviction have been developed in partnership with aid agencies and governments. I examine how successful these community/partner responses have been; how they are viewed by governments, donors and communities; and to what extent they can be considered as viable pathways to cleaner urban waterways and sustainable cities.

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Storey, Donovan