Urban Futures in Southeast Asia

A web-documentary of a student research project on urban development and city making in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur

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South East Asia is one of the most dynamic and interesting regions when it comes to urban transformations. We, a group of master students from the University of Innsbruck, wanted to study and explore these urban futures more in detail on site. But then the Covid 19 pandemic hit and we couldn’t travel to Southeast Asia.  Hence, we had to get creative and we tried to explore the topic from afar. On this website we present the results of our remote research experiment which took us virtually to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and Bangkok (Thailand).

 

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Chapter 1:

Welcome in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia (SEA) and especially the urban spaces in Southeast Asia are among the most dynamic and at the same time highly diverse regions on our planet. While the scale, pace or intensity of urbanization processes varies strongly between and within Southeast Asian countries (cf. map on population density below), similarities in terms of their complexity and overall dynamics can be overserved. Whereas in 1975 more than 75 percent of the regional population lived outside urban areas, the percentage is currently already below 50. Forecasts for 2050 by the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs show a steady continuation of urban growth and predict that up to 65 percent of Southeast Asia’s population will live in urban areas (UN 2018). The ongoing transformation from previously mostly rural to increasingly urban societies and spaces is closely interrelated with a profound change in the economical, ecological and socio-cultural landscape and can be characterized as a polycentric urbanization and development (Knox 2009) and as Schindler states, it is inherited with a persistent disconnect between capital and labor (Schindler 2017: 47). The “resulting plurality of urban transformation pathways” (WBGU 2016: 3) in Southeast Asia is therefore an interesting field of observation and “a rich comparative frame” which “includes differences that might ordinarily be held apart” (Bunnell et al. 2012: 2787). The diversity of Asian urbanism plays an important role “as a shifting theoretical frontier” in creating regional models and identities for urban development and policy knowledge (Bunnell et al. 2012: 2791).

The development of the urban population (vs. rural population) in Southeast Asia

  • in 1975 15% 15%
  • in 2018 50% 50%
  • in 2050 (projected) 65% 65%

© Alasdair Rae        

This research project analyses different urban transformation processes within the capital cities of Thailand (Bangkok) and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur) and asks what these developments mean for sustainable transformation processes and urban futures. Both cities and their urban agglomerations are inherited by a dynamic urban growth and possess a nationwide and trans-boundary pull-factor. Along with this development came a differentiation in national urban systems (with primate-city-dominated system prevailing in Thailand, and a multipolar but hierarchically organized city system in Malaysia), a widespread spatial expansion of cities and the transformation of inner-urban structures (Kraas 2017).

At present, more than 80 percent of the urban population lives in the agglomeration area of Bangkok (WBGU 2016: 4). Although not equally centralized but nevertheless diverse and dynamic, Kuala Lumpur and its agglomeration area function as the central economic and socio-cultural hub of Malaysia. Below you can take a closer look on our research areas and case studies.

→ text: Jan Misera

References

Knox, P. (2009): Urbanization. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA, USA. Elsevier Ltd.

Bunnell, T. et al. (2012): Introduction: Global Urban Frontiers? Asian Cities in Theory, Practice and Imagination. Urban Studies, 49 (13), pp. 2785–2793.

Kraas, F. (2017): Die Städte Südostasiens. Stadtgeographie 5., überarbeitete Auflage, pp. 350–363. Ferdinand Schöningh.

Schindler, S. (2017): Towards a paradigm of Southern urbanism. City 21 (1), pp. 47-64.

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2018): World Urbanization Prospects. The 2018 Revision.

WBGU – German Advisory Council on Global Change (2016): Humanity on the move: Unlocking the transformative power of cities. Berlin: WBGU.

P
Bangkok

Today, more than 80 percent of Thailand’s urban population lives in the Bangkok Metropolitan Region BMR (WBGU 2016: 4). Bangkok is thus a prime example of a primacy city.

P
Kuala Lumpur

Although not as centralized as it is the case in Thailand, Kuala Lumpur and its agglomeration area functions as the central economic and socio-cultural hub of Malaysia.

Bangkok

(background video by Drone Fan under CC BY-SA 3.0)       

Introduction to Bangkok 

Bangkok has been the capital of the Kingdom of Thailand since 1782 and is compared to many other cities worldwide a relatively young city. It has special administrative status and is governed by a governor. The capital has a population of 10.722 million (2021) and covers an area of around 1565 km² and is by far the largest city in the country (World Population Review 2021). The city is located at the junction of the Indochinese and Malay Peninsulas within the delta area of the Mae Nam Chao Phraya (Chao Phraya River) which discharges into the Gulf of Thailand. 

The slider below shows the urban sprawl and urbanisation of Bangkok between 2002 and 2020: 

Past Present

Bangkok is Thailand`s administrative, economic, and cultural centre, as well as a major commercial and transportation hub for South-East Asia. It was formerly divided into two municipalities – Krung Thep on the east bank and Thon Buri on the west – connected by several bridges. In 1971 the two were united as a city-province with a single municipal government. In 1972 the city and the two surrounding provinces were merged into one province, called Krung Thep Maha Nakhon (Sternstein 1982).

Due to its location in the tropics, Bangkok’s average day time temperature is rarely below 30 degrees centigrade thought the year and even the night time temperature is not much cooler. So walking even short distances can be very exhausting which is why a large number of cars, buses, taxis and tuk-tuks dominate the streetscapes of Bangkok. According to Hanaoka (2007) and several other scientists, who engaged in Bangkok’s transport system, a fundamental concern is the poorly planned road network, which is not adapted to the sheer size of the city and its population. The future development of mobility is an important aspect of Bangkok’s urban planning (see also the results of our research group on urban mobilities).

In 2011, Thailand was challenged by a severe flood which inundated more than two-thirds of the country and affected millions of people. Especially the population living outside the flood dam protecting the core city were confronted with inundated areas. The high flood risk of Bangkok is explained by its geographic location, as it is lying in the lower floodplain of the Chao Phraya River which discharges into the Gulf of Thailand. Its city center lies only in 25 kilometers distance from the Gulf of Thailand and the average elevation of Bangkok is 0.0-0.2m above sea-level. Given the characteristics of such low-lying areas, water cannot easily drain resulting in a natural risk of inundation (SingKran & Kandasamy 2016) making flooding a major risk factor for Bangkok (see also the results of our research group on urban flooding).

This natural risk potential must be taken into consideration for a resilient urban development, which is one of the reasons why for example the planned Chao Phraya River Promenade project, which would have meant a significant obstruction of the river bank, has met with great concern (see also the results of our research group on urban wellbeing and blue spaces).

In 2019, like everywhere else in the world, Covid-19 hit Bangkok with far reaching impacts not only urban development projects but also people’s everyday lives (see also the results of our research group on the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic).

→ text: Oliver Katzian; fun facts: Stefani Decker

References

Hanaoka Shinya (2007): Review of urban transport policy and it’s impact in Bangkok. In: Proceedings of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies, Vol.6.

Singkran, N., & Kandasamy, J. (2016). Developing a strategic flood risk management framework for Bangkok, Thailand. Natural Hazards, 84(2), 933-957.

Sternstein, L. (1982): Portrait of Bangkok. Bangkok: Bangkok metropolitan administration.

World Population Review (2021): Bangkok Population 2021, [https://worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/bangkok-population], last checked 03.05.2021

hover here for an interesting fact about Bangkok

Bangkok has the worlds longest official city name

 

To the outside world, the capital of Thailand is known as Bangkok, but the official name is the longest city name in the world. The full name is:

Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahinthara Yutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udom Ratchaniwet Mahasathan Amonphiman Awatansathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukamprasit 

it means: the City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Visvakarman at Indra’s behest.

here is it in Thai language:

กรุงเทพมหานคร อมรรัตนโกสินทร์ มหินทรายุธยา มหาดิลกภพ นพรัตนราชธานีบูรีรมย์ อุดมราชนิเวศน์มหาสถาน อมรพิมานอวตารสถิต สักกะทัตติยวิษณุกรรมประสิทธิ์

hover here for an interesting fact

In Thailand it is forbidden to use durian fruits as a weapon

 

As in many countries, there are also unusual or traditional laws in Thailand. For example, it is forbidden to use the durian fruit as a weapon. The penalty is determined by how many thorns hit the victim.

The New York Times describes the durian as follows “On the outside, the durian resembles a medieval torture device. Nestled inside the spiky shell are kidney-shaped lobes of custard. The flavor is somewhere between an off-peak Gorgonzola and a crème caramel, with a whiff of skunk. This may explain why there is a need for such a law.

Kuala Lumpur

(background video by Skyrun Malaysia under CC BY)       

Introduction to Kuala Lumpur 

Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia and was founded in 1857 on the peninsula’s west coast in the Klang valley at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak Rivers. The city rises merely 22m above sea level, unfolds to an area of 243km² and comprises a population of 1.8 million in the city and 7.8 million in the metro region (Norashikin et al. 2018). Its location led to the city’s name which roughly translates to the ‘muddy confluence’. The rivers shape a ‘Y’ (see map below), which divides Kuala Lumpur in almost three equal parts (Nayan et al. 2020).

This slider shows the urban sprawl and urban development of Kuala Lumpur between 2002 and 2020: 

The west bank of the Klang river was occupied by the British administration until 1911 when its role as transport corridor dropped. At the abandoned riverbanks, squatter settlements began to spread, which were relocated following two major floods in the beginning of the 20th century (Stevens 2020). Though flooding has always been an issue in Malaysia’s capital, the rapid and seemingly uncontrolled development of Kuala Lumpur had left no room to pay attention to the city’s extremely sensitive natural environment. This led to flooding becoming more frequent and its consequences more severe within the city – until the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, particularly the Department of Irrigation and Drainage, started several flood mitigation projects and programs to improve the river water quality such as the SMART tunnel or the River of Life campaign (Norashikin et al. 2018, Othman & Abdul Majid 2018). Besides an increase in flooding events, Kuala Lumpur’s rapid urbanization has majorly affected the city’s mobility and transportation systems. For example, the number of newly registered motor vehicles has been constantly rising for the past decades resulting in traffic congestions and increased greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, the need for more sustainable mobility alternatives and a more appealing yet efficient public transportation system is crystallizing (Hong & Wong 2017). Yet, like in many other parts of the world, Covid19 has pushed the pause button on many projects and ideas, and has changed the lives of Kuala Lumpur’s citizens’ immensely.

 

→ text: Jil Jaumann; fun facts: Iris Trikha

References

DID (2019). Department of Irrigation and Drainage. Water Resources Management & Hydrology – Projects. https://www.water.gov.my/index.php/pages/view/665?mid=295. Last access: 19.12.20.

Hong, D. & Wong, L. W. “A study on smart mobility in Kuala Lumpur,” 2017 2nd International Conference on Computing and Communications Technologies (ICCCT), 2017, pp. 27-32, doi: 10.1109/ICCCT2.2017.7972241.

Nayan, N. M., Jones, D. S., Bahaluddin, A., Ghani, I., & Rahman, N. A. (2020). Designating Urban Rivers as National Heritage: A case study of Sungai Kelang and Sungai Gombak, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science, 409, 12035. https://doi.org/10.1088/1755-1315/409/1/012035.

Norashikin, S., Rabieashtul, A. B., Tanot, U. (2018). Flash flood impact in Kuala Lumpur – Approach review and way forward. International Journal of the Malay World and Civilization 6, 2018: 69 – 76.

Othman, A. R., & Abdul Majid, N. H. (2018). KL River of Life and its Heritage Value. Asian Journal of Behavioural Studies, 3(13), 105. https://doi.org/10.21834/ajbes.v3i13.148.

Stevens, Q. (2020). Activating Urban Waterfronts: Planning and Design for Inclusive, Engaging and Adaptable Public Spaces: Taylor & Francis.

hover here for an interesting fact

The tallest twin towers in the world

 

With 451.9 m the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004, and are still considered the tallest twin buildings in the world.

hover here for an interesting fact

Ancient caves in the megacity

 

Batu Caves, located just north of Kuala Lumpur, is a constelation of limestone caves up to 100 meters tall and 400 million years old in which a Hindu temple has been constructed

Chapter 2:

Our Project

Geographie Uni Innsbruck

Who we are: 

We are a group of students in the Geography Master’s program at the University of Innsbruck (Austria). Our research project is part of the specialization program on “Regional Case Studies of Sustainable Development in Southeast Asia” and was conducted with the support of our lecturers Tabea Bork-Hüffer and Simon A. Peth. Our research was focused on “Urban Futures in South East Asia, Urban Development, Transformations and Future Perspectives” with a special focus on Bangkok (Thailand) and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). For our research we split up into four groups to examine the following topics: Urban Mobilities, Flooding, Wellbeing and Rivers, and Urban Disruptions in Times of Covid-19. The project started in March 2020 with inputs on concepts and theories, followed by the methodical preparation. The plan was to travel to South East Asia in February 2021 to explore the cities and conduct our research.

Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the research design had to be turned into a remote research project. Since it was not possible for us to visit and experience the cities first hand we faced the challenge of gaining only a limited insight into our field of research. We ask you to keep this in mind when viewing this web documentary.  In addition, communication and establishing contacts with experts over the distance was a challenge which, indeed affected the type and quantity of data we could collect. However, it was a very interesting experiment, and we gathered a lot of new experiences with doing remote research and also quite some interesting insights were found. Below you can learn more about our research groups, the research process, the methods, and the results.

→ text: Elisa Kuntner

{

"We were really looking forward to travel to Southeast Asia and to do research in real life on the streets of Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. But then it became clear that we couldn't travel because of the Covid-19 pandemic. We had to make a virtue out of necessity, so we started a remote research experiment."

¬ Simon A. Peth

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Although being a global tragedy, the Covid-19 pandemic and the disruption of global mobility has opened up previously untapped potentials in distance learning: Becoming creative and mobile by digital means and through remote research. This is what our highly engaged and motivated group of Master students did throughout the last year. Not being able to travel and venturing through the complexities and specificities of our case study cities, however, means that the outcome is ever more but a representation from afar. As part of our module, students were encouraged to reflect upon the limits of the methods that we were able to apply remotely and upon the gaps between their perspectives, interpretations and the stories they create and the actual “multiplicities” of “stories-so-far” (Massey 2005) of people in our two case study cities. We ask our audience to keep this critically in mind while inviting you on our remote research journey!

¬ Tabea Bork-Hüffer

Mobilities

In our group of five students, we were interested in various aspects related to students’ mobility. Hereby, we particularly attempted to find out more about university students’ practices related to transportation choice, especially regarding destinations, distances, and purposes as well as the mobility options they required before the COVID-19 pandemic. We did research in both cities, Kuala Lumpur, and Bangkok. We were interested in experts’ opinions and thus interviewed several university professors. Further, we distributed a questionnaire to university students, to get an insight on their point of view.

Urban Flooding

Composed of four students, the working group on urban flooding focused on specific actions taken and contextual factors when tackling the pressing issue of flooding in Southeast Asian cities that are densely populated – a regular risk that is further aggravated in light of climate change. Moreover, the cities worked on are especially prone to flash floods given their geographic setting: Bangkok, a city lying in a river delta and Kuala Lumpur, located in a river catchment.

Therefore, it was the main goal to understand the progress and major challenges of the implementation of specific projects addressing floods in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur such as structural and non-structural mitigation measures. In this context, it was further intended to identify key stakeholders and the cooperation among them. Finally, it was of additional interest to understand the community’s engagement within those projects and the benefits of community-based mitigation and adaptation approaches. 

Wellbeing

What it takes to be healthy and happy was the main interest of the research group, which focused on wellbeing. We focused on two projects at riverfronts in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok in order to evaluate the influence of such projects on wellbeing and livelihoods of the affected population. Furthermore, we investigated on the perception, especially how river promenade projects are experienced and encountered by the locals. In addition, we explored how social media can be used as a method of participation for the local people to have an influence in urban planning processes like the projects we focused on. In other words, we tried our best to find out what issues should be considered in future urban planning to increase the wellbeing of the local population in relation to water bodies (particularly rivers) and riverfront designs.

Covid-19 and Urban Health

In this research group we were six student researchers interested in the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on students in our research sites Kuala Lumpur (KL) and Bangkok (BK).

We had three main objectives: First, we wanted to get a deeper insight how the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions affect the daily life of students in KL and BK in general. Our second aim was to find out if and how the students’ perception and interaction with their environment has changed since the start of the pandemic. Finally, we raise the question whether the crisis has led to a reassessment of personal needs regarding the city and urban space. In other words, how should future urban planning look like to deal with crisis, like a pandemic?

Chapter 3:

Asian Urbanism

 Asian Urbanism

Asian cities are characterized by high rates of growth, urbanization and the cumulation of capital. Beyond these broad similarities there are great heterogeneities and everchanging dynamics within Asian cities. Therefore, it is impossible to define a typical Asian city and Asian urbanisms in general. It is also not possible to unambigously grasp asian urbanism from a western perspective and with western conzepts, since processes and contexts all over the world are so diverse and complex. Furthermore, it is important to note that the global theoretical appearance of Asian urban locations also results from different forms of what is called “worlding practices” (Roy 2011, cf. figure ).  

Asian cities and urbanization processes stand out from urban development trajectories that already have been followed elsewhere. Differentiation by the term “Asian urbanism” is intended to avoid seeing Asian cities as merely following the urban developments of the West. In addition, the diversity of Asia and its cities should be emphasized, as there is certainly not just the existence of a singular Asian urban model or type (Bunnell et al. 2012: 2786). However, according to literature, the following aspects describe the development of Asian cities: 

Firstly, within many Asian cities there is an effort to overcome stereotypical image as “developing Asia”, restrictive and problematic “Third World” urbanization, and images of slums and overpopulation (Bunnell 2012: 2787), and creating their own “Asian identities”. These can be understood as a pool of urban policy knowledge in terms of practices. Thus, this understanding of Asia’s cities can represent models, lessons, or exemplars and can be applied to other cities worldwide (Roy 2009: 329). Examples for this trend are Putrajaya in Malaysia with its Islamic aesthetic, Singapore as a model city for global urban transformation and Shenzen which is on the forefront of Chinas capitalist transformation. Newly ascendent cities develop differently from Western cities (Bunnell 2012: 2788 ff).  

Secondly, for many cities in the global South, the disconnect of capital and labor is no longer the top priority of urban governance regimes; capital and labor have been accumulated. As a result, they tend to focus on transforming the territory rather than “improving” the populations. Public and private capital is invested in infrastructure and real estate rather than in production, profoundly changing cityscapes (Schindler 2017: 52ff). 

In conclusion, it is important to recognize and embrace Asia’s urban diversity which make it impossible to build a homogenous model of “the Asian city” or “Asian urbanism”. In urban Asia, we encounter an art of being global that is always involved in a political game that is allusive, contrastive, comparative, and contested, with cities in the region but also beyond (Ong 2011: 13).

→ text: Karolin Voßbeck, Silja Baumann, Jan Misera, David Reisenauer 

References

Ong, A. (2011). Introduction – Worlding Cities, or the Art of Being Global. In A. Roy & A. Ong (Eds.), Studies in urban and social change. Worlding cities: Asian experiments and the art of being global. Malden, Mass: Wiley-Blackwell. 

Bunnell, Tim, Daniel P. S. Goh, Chee Kien Lai, and C. P. Pow. 2012. “Introduction: Global Urban Frontiers? Asian Cities in Theory, Practice and Imagination.” Urban Studies 49(13):2785–93. 

Schindler, Seth. 2017. “Towards a Paradigm of Southern Urbanism.” City 21(1):47–64. 

Roy, Ananya. 2011. “Conclusion: Postcolonial Urbanism: Speed, Hysteria, Mass Dreams.” Worlding Cities 307–35. 

Putrajaya

Putra Mosque, iconic Islamic architecture 

Singapore

Gardens by the Bay

Asian Urbanism
Worlding Practices

Worlding practices are “projects that attempt to establish or break established horizons of urban standards in and beyond a particular city” (Ong, 2011, p. 4). They are used to identify projects and practices that realize a vision of the world that shapes itself (Ong, 2011, p. 11). Worlding practices can be divided into “three styles of being global” which are called modelling, inter-referencing and new solidarities (Ong, 2011, pp. 13–14).

Modeling describes the acknowledgment and copying of successful approaches to urbanism in an Asian city by another (Ong, 2011, p. 14) 

Inter-referencing refers more broadly to practices of citation, allusion, aspiration, comparison, and competition”. Citing a city that is more successful “seems to stir urban aspirations and sentiments of inter-city rivalry as well as standing as a legitimation for particular enterprises at home” (Ong, 2011, p. 17). It is sometimes used to calm public protest against unpopular measure such as slum clearing. There is also the danger of an unhealthy spiral of competition (Ong, 2011, p. 17). “A message of inter-referencing is the role of the state in funding or fostering mega-projects” (Ong, 2011, p. 20). 

New Solidarities arise among Asian cities no longer following established pathways but instead creating their own identities by experimenting and reinventing urban norms (Ong, 2011, p. 21). 

Illustration: Karolin Voßbeck, Silja Baumann, Jan Misera, David Reisenauer (based on Roy and Ong 2011) 

In academia, we usually approach our research subjects through conceptual approaches or with various scientific methods. We thought it would be interesting to think outside the box. Following is a poetic approach to our topic. We asked ourselves; what would a poem sound like if one of our research cities could write poetry?

A poem about Asian Urbanism

Chapter 4:

Wellbeing

photo: S. A. Peth                                    

What is wellbeing? 

Before we start to dive deeper into our research results, we wanted to clarify what researchers mean by ‘wellbeing’. “‘Wellbeing’ is a major, if not the ultimate goal, for every human being. Therefore, it is unsurprising that many institutions, governments and organisations worldwide are continuing to pay more attention to this important subject” (Petermans & Cain 2020: 3)This statement by Petermans and Cain shows the importance and relevance of the “hot topic” wellbeing. However, researchers did not yet come to consent about a definition or conceptualization of wellbeing and happiness. So far, there is agreement that first, “happiness is determined for a large part by genetics, life circumstances and intentional activities”. Secondly, researchers agree that “happiness and wellbeing have an objective and subjective component”. Therefore, subjective wellbeing and happiness are now often used interchangeably. According to Petermans and Cain “the way in which SWB [subjective wellbeing] is often connoted is close to the way in which most people interpret ‘happiness’ in its widest sense, that is, happiness as an overarching term for ‘all that is good’” (Cain & Petermans 2020: 5). This interpretation is close to the definition in the Cambridge Dictionary that simply defines wellbeing as “the state of feeling healthy and happy” (Cambridge Dictionary 2021). Objective wellbeing is not the opposite of subjective wellbeing, but it can be seen as a determining factor of subjective wellbeing. Petermans and Cain define it as the “degree to which external constraints (that is, conditions that are external to an individual) for having a high quality of life are met(Petermans & Cain 2020: 6)

Gatzweiler widens this interpretation: The aspect of “wellbeing describes a situation in which people are free (or enabled) to choose to do and be what they value” (Gatzweiler et al. 2017: 32). The aim is to understand, define and create urban systems, which provide a range of goods and services in which any human has freedom in choice to create his or her wellbeing (Gatzweiler et al. 2017).  

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services highlights, why wellbeing is an important factor for society: “Well-being is a positive outcome that is meaningful for people and for many sectors of society, because it tells us that people perceive that their lives are going well. Good living conditions (e.g., housing, employment) are fundamental to well-being. Tracking these conditions is important for public policy. Example dimensions of wellbeing are economic and political participation, the ability to benefit from education and health care services (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services 2018).  

Therefore, cities and the processes of urbanization offer great opportunities for health and wellbeing but also present challenges which are in turn influenced by decisions at all levels, from formal policies to individual actions (Gatzweiler et al. 2017).  As Gatzweiler et al. mention, further research is needed to answer the complex question of “how to ensure human health and wellbeing in urban areas” and an equal cooperation of scientists, politicians, urban planners, companies, NGOs and the local population are necessary to realize this complex idea of “quality of life in urban areas” (Gatzweiler et al. 2017)

→ text: Silja Baumann

References

Cain, Rebecca; Petermans, Ann (2020): Setting the scene for design for subjective wellbeing. In: Ann Petermans und Rebecca Cain (Hg.): Design for wellbeing. An applied approach. London, New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. 

Cambridge Dictionary (Hg.) (2021): well-being. Online verfügbar unter https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/well-being, zuletzt aktualisiert am 29.04.2021, zuletzt geprüft am 29.04.2021. 

Gatzweiler, Franz W.; Zhu, Yong-Guan; Diez Roux, Anna V.; Capon, Anthony; Donelly, Christel; Salem, Gérard (2017): Advancing health and wellbeing in the changing urban environment. Implementing a systems approach. Singapore: Springer Zhejiang University Pressf (Urban health and wellbeing Sytems approaches, Environment). Online verfügbar unter https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2F978-981-10-3364-3.pdf, zuletzt geprüft am 29.04.2021. 

Petermans, Ann; Cain, Rebecca (Hg.) (2020): Design for wellbeing. An applied approach. London, New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. 

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (Hg.) (2018): Well-Being Concepts | HRQOL | CDC. Online verfügbar unter https://www.cdc.gov/hrqol/wellbeing.htm, zuletzt aktualisiert am 29.04.2021, zuletzt geprüft am 29.04.2021. 

from left to rigth: Miriam, Nina, Silja, Oliver, Daniel

Research Design  

To conduct the research of the wellbeing group two different methods were used. One focus was on expert interviews. During a period of four weeks seven interviews were conducted. Because of our own language limitations and the specific conditions of remote research, we chose interview partners, who were able to answer our questions in English and were available for an online interview. Another aspect that we tried to consider, was a balance of the backgrounds of the interview partners. To broaden the perspective, interview partners from non-governmental organisations, government officials and city planners to private initiatives were contacted. For the research in Kuala Lumpur, a certain variety could be reached, for the interviews in Bangkok it is important to notice, that we reached mainly critical voices against the project. Overall, one should consider, that the interviews conducted cannot be seen as representative of the different perspectives on the project by various groups in the two cities under analysis due to the small number and the choice of interview partners. However, another method helped us to gather some additional insights: a (social) media analysis. One was conducted for Kuala Lumpur, one for Bangkok. For Kuala Lumpur a Python analysis of Twitter content was conducted, which will be explained in detail in the ‘analysis and results’ part. For Bangkok a media content analysis of newspaper articles was done. Here, articles focusing on the Chao Phraya River Promenade project of four different newspapers were coded and evaluated. The presented results are a synthesis of the findings of the interviews and the media analyses. Again, it is important to have in mind, that all the results cannot be seen as representative but give only a hint into some aspects of the actual local situation. Overall, our remote research project conducted during the pandemic came with many limitations to reaching relevant groups and understanding actual local contexts and complexities.

In the following chapters we will answer our research questions, which are: 

1. Participation and the role of social media: How is participation implemented in the planning and realization of the development projects River of Life (KL) and Chao Phraya River Promenade (BKK)? How can the participation process in these projects be improved and how can social media influence this process?

2. Wellbeing: How do development projects at riverfronts like the River of Life in Kuala Lumpur and Chao Phraya River Promenade in Bangkok influence wellbeing in cities of the affected people? 

3. Perception: How are development projects at riverfronts like the River of Life Campaign in KL and the Chao Phraya River promenade project in BKK perceived and encountered by the affected population (especially those we can reach via the internet and social media), experts and governmental organisations?   

But first we will introduce our case studies. 

→ text: Nina Debelius

Introduction of our case studies

Let’s have a look at our case studies. First, we will introduce the Chao Phraya River Promenade project in Bangkok and then the River of Life project in Kuala Lumpur.

The view on the Chao Phraya and the old customs house
→ photo: S. A. Peth

BKK – Chao Phraya River Promenade (CPRP) 

The Chao Phraya River Promenade Project represents a prestige project of Bangkok, which has been in planning since 2014 (Bremard: 2019), after the then head of the military junta Prayut Chan-o-cha visited a famous riverside promenade located in Seoul, South Korea. As he was fascinated by the project, he proposed a Thai version of the promenade (Kongrut: 2020). The goal is to make the Chao Phraya River accessible. Bicycle paths and walkways are to be built on both sides of the river, and new parks are to be built to make the river more attractive to tourists and more accessible to the local population (Kongrut: 2020). Finding hard facts about the planned promenade has proven to be difficult, because the scheme has changed several times over the years. Below on the satellite image are some statements about the project’s size.

T

“…, the 19.5-metre wide and 7-kilometre-long promenade would stretch between Rama VII and Pin Klao bridges. (Bangkok Post 2015)

T

“[…] the city’s Public Works Department is considering downsizing the width to 12 metres after public criticism” (Bangkok Post 2015).

T

“According to the BMA, the project’s designer has agreed to reduce the width of the promenade from 12-19 metres to 7-10 metres. It will consist of bike lanes and walkways, which will be built along the 14-km banks of the Chao Phraya between Rama VII and Pin Klao bridges” (Bangkok Post 2017).

T

The total cost was estimated at 14 billion baht  [approx.: 373 Mio. Euro] (Kongrut, 2020).

However, the project was criticized by various actors from the very beginning. The debates focus on economic, cultural and environmental issues. On the economic side the initial overall cabinet budget of 14 billion baht (around 373 Mio. Euro on May 3, 2021), which was calculated in 2015, led to great controversies. On a cultural side, especially conflicting views on access to the river, led to a controversy. The argument was that this project is not made for the local population, but for tourists only. Furthermore, environmental concerns were raised which influenced the public debate about the project. Several environmental impacts were discussed such as the influence of the project on the river flow, water level, and water quality (Bremard: 2019). Yossapon Boonsom, a landscape architect and founder of the “Friends of the River”- Campaign, is one of the biggest opponents of the project. He is particularly critical of the lack of impact studies, both on a social and environmental level:

This is more than just a walkway – it’s a massive construction in the river, which will narrow the river and affect its flow, and increase the risk of flooding.

¬ Yossapon Boonsom

Longtail boats on the Chao Phraya ...

... would need new moorings if the project will be implemented.

The view on the river from Sathorn Pier

also all water taxis and water busses would be largely affected by the River Promenade Project.

The Chao Phraya is Thailands most important water way

This barge is on its way to Laem Chabang, Thailands deep sea port.

The Chao Phraya at the delta mouth

here the river is much wider than in the inner-city part where the project is planned.

→ photos: S. A. Peth

WHY DID WE CHOOSE THIS PROJECT FOR OUR RESEARCH?

For Bangkok, this project represents an important part of urban planning, as it has been in the public controversy for several years. For the subject of our subgroup, the topic is highly relevant because it combines the topics of wellbeing and water. Regarding this aspect we did research on the opportunities and risks, which might come along with the realization of the project. Furthermore, as our main interest was the wellbeing of people, we tried to find out how the Chao Phraya River Promenade could influence this aspect or in which other ways wellbeing could be uplifted in the project area. To perform the research, we used expert interviews and an online newspaper article analysis.

→ text: Silja Baumann

KL – River of Life (RoL)

According to Nayan et al. (2020) the Klang and Gombak Rivers are the most crucial elements that should be conserved in the Old Town of Kuala Lumpur because both riverscapes shaped the history of KL. Regarding this aspect the Malaysian government established a new program in 2011 known as the Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley (GKL/KV). It was introduced as “an initiative under the National Key Economic Area 2020” (NKEA 2020) and “one of its Entry Points Projects (EPPs) is for Revitalizing the Klang River into a Heritage and Commercial Centre for GKL/KV” (Nayan et al., 2020: 2). The name of the new development project is EPP 5: River of Life (RoL) and its aim is “to ensure that any future development of and adjacent to the RoL respected the existing local heritage” (Nayan et al., 2020: 2). In contrast to the Chao Phraya Promenade Project which has never passed the planning phase the RoL project in KL was actually implemented.

The confluence of the Gombak and Klang river in Kuala Lumpur
→ photo: F. Octaviam, under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Corresponding to the official website of the River of Life public outreach program (ROLPOP), the Project is set up for seven years “to transform the Klang River into a vibrant and livable waterfront with high economic value” (KLRiver 2020). In total the project covers eight rivers with a total length of 110 km. The three main components of the project are: River Cleaning, River Beautification, Commercialization and Tourism. The public outreach program started in 2012. Its aim is “to foster partnerships and improve attitudes and behaviors of target groups to reduce pollution”  (KLRiver 2020). The target groups are the public, educational institutions, local communities, food establishments, wet markets and automobile workshops, industries, corporations, and developers. These target groups shall be encouraged to a sense of ownership towards the river by initiating “long term and sustainable change in behaviors towards protecting the river” (KLRiver 2020). Meanwhile, the public outreach program ended in late 2020 in Phase 5 and covered the entire River of Life boundary.

WHY DID WE CHOOSE THIS PROJECT FOR OUR RESEARCH?

Several aspects make the RoL an interesting research case, including the historical value, conserving the local heritage, but also the possible positive impacts following river cleaning and beautification as well as the economic benefits of the commercialization and transformation of the river as a place of touristic interest. Regarding our research it was of great interest how the program really changed the area/ place and the perception of the local population. Especially regarding our topic “wellbeing and water” the impact of the program on the local people regarding their wellbeing is of significance. As we could find out during our research the project is not only perceived positively. Some of our interview partners mentioned that the inclusion of the general public in the planning and implementation process was rather low. Some negative twitter posts could also be found through the Python Analysis. In the following sections we will present our research results and answer our research questions.

→ text: Silja Baumann

References

Bremard, T. (2019). Politics of Urban Riverbank Development:: The Contested Chao Phraya River Promenade Project in Bangkok. Retrieved from http://deltasoutheastasia-doubt.com/wp-content/uploads/UploadedDocuments/BremardPolE2019Pres.pdf

Chandran, R. (2020). Bangkok court halts river promenade project that would worsen flooding. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-thailand-landrights-court-idUSKBN2001X6?edition-redirect=uk

KLRiver (2020). About River of Life. Retrieved from http://klriver.org/index.cfm

Kongrut, A. (2020). Promenade halt might just save Chao Phraya. Retrieved from https://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/1852354/promenade-halt-might-just-save-chao-phraya

Nayan, N. M., Jones, D. S., Bahaluddin, A., Ghani, I., & Rahman, N. A. (2020). Designating Urban Rivers as National Heritage: A case study of Sungai Kelang and Sungai Gombak, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science, 409, 12035. https://doi.org/10.1088/1755-1315/409/1/012035

The Masjid Jamek Mosque at confluence of the Gombak and Klang river
→ photo: C.O. Goh

Results/ Findings of our research

How is participation implemented in the planning and realization of the development projects River of Life (KL) and Chao Phraya River Promenade (BKK)? How can the participation process in these projects be improved and how can social media influence this process?

Participation and the River of Life Project in Kuala Lumpur 

Since the beginning of the River of Life Project (RoL) there were several efforts to involve the population in the planning and implementation of the project. For example, workshops were held in which environmental protection and a sustainable approach to rivers were discussed. Additionally, an app (Citizens Eye App) has been developed, in which all problematic issues, but also positive experiences related to the river and the RoL project, can be uploaded. Moreover, there are efforts by different entities (e.g. Global Environment Centre, Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia or the university initiative Water Warriors) trying to improve the participation of the local population and to increase the awareness on sustainability issues related to the river. However, during our research also a range of problems were raised. Multiple times it had been emphasized, that these efforts mentioned above only bear fruit as long as all plans and measures are actively carried out. The goal is, that people’s awareness is raised, e.g., regarding the question of how to treat the environment in general, and the river in particular. It must also be said that although there are people participating in such workshops, compared to the overall number of people who live in the project area, relatively few people actively participate. Hence, there is still room for improvement when it comes to participation. However, our interviews with different experts has shown, that it is not so easy to get people involved. One expert working in the field of water and energy research for example emphasized this problem as follows:

„[…] the people don’t even have time for their family, how should they have time for the river.“ (interviewed March 2021)

Also a quantitative analysis of our empirical data shows that the need for more participation was far more often mentioned compared actual participation which had taken place during the planning and implementation phase (see diagram below). 

Number of times when actual/active participation was mentioned during the interviews vs. the number of times when the need for more participation was expressed

Source: own illustration, sample: n = 4 interviews

Participation and the Chao Phraya River Promenade Project in Bangkok 

There are two different aspects of participation that were mentioned. On the one hand, the lack of involvement of the population in the planning of the project was strongly criticized. On the other hand, however, the strong participation in preventing the project under the given conditions was also highlighted. The project Chao Phraya River Promenade Project had been described as largely top-down and in particular the lack of involvement of the local population has been stressed. As a reaction to this lack of involvement, several groups were formed to protest against this circumstance. The biggest of these groups is the organisation „Friends of the River“, which has been active on social media – but also in real life – since 2015. The main aim of these civil society groups is to protest against the odds of how the project was planned to be implemented.  These groups quickly grew in size and popularity which increased their influence on the project’s planning process.  In the end these protests even resulted in the project being halted.

One of the cofounders of a non-governmental organisation focusing on the Chao Phraya River Promenade Project emphasized the importance of participation for the acceptance of such projects: I think the first step in solving this inequality, [it] is about giving people the chance to say something and listen to them and then making sure that they can decide what they want. […] So that‘s why I think it‘s a problem, it‘s more like a one way communication, no dialogue“ (interviewed February 2021).

The issue was also closely followed in the media, with particular focus on the lack of participation and trust. The Bangkok Post for example wrote: „Also, the riverside promenade fails to link up with local communities it passes through […]. Other concerns were the lack of a feasibility study and public hearings“ (Bangkok Post: City promenade plan under fire, published 22 May 2015).

The Role of Social Media in both projects

Social media is a powerful tool to bring people together and gain a momentum. The more supporters a movement acquires, the more it can force the government to respond. For Kuala Lumpur one of our interviewees puts it like this: „In Malaysia, social media plays an important role, they are really active. If some issues are really like kinda big, so they make it viral. You know, the government need to make sure that they do something. If they are not doing something the media will keep post about these topics“ (expert in the field of urban design, heritage & conservation, and historic urban landscape, interviewed February 2021).

In terms of visibility and communication, social media has huge potentials. For the River of Life project social media is mainly used for spreading information and give the local communities the chance to share their experiences. „We do rely a lot on social media to get our messages across and to spread our events. […] I would say that it is an important tool for us. Social media has become something that we can’t escape“ (expert in the field of Water Conservation, Environmental Education and Community Engagement, interviewed February 2021).

But there is also a danger coming with social media. You never know what information is correct and what is fake news. As an example, some of our interview partners mentioned, that there are influencers, paid by those responsible for the projects, to whitewash these projects. On the Chao Phraya River promenade project social media had a major impact. Without social media, most likely the protesters would never have gained so much momentum and attention. As an example: The „Friends of the River“ movement started a petition, and promoted it via social media, to stop the project under the current circumstances and got over 30.000 signatures, also from other regions outside Bangkok. All interview partners mentioned at least once, that in today’s times, nothing of importance can be successfully implemented without social media.

„So, I think it [the Friends of the River movement] slowly creates a momentum through social media, getting a lot of supporter in many groups. We use a lot of tools to make sure that the government will listen and not only the government listens, but also the court. […] We saw that social media creates a lot of impact because we can see the amount of people showing up, not only on social media, but then also when we organized on-the-ground activities“ (NGO founder, interviewed February 2021). In the following part we want to have a deeper look on our findings about the aspects of wellbeing.

 → text: Oliver Katzian 

Analysis of the research question regarding wellbeing

How do development projects at riverfronts like the River of Life in Kuala Lumpur and Chao Phraya River Promenade in Bangkok influence wellbeing/livelihood in cities of the affected people?

Wellbeing and the River of Life Project in Kuala Lumpur 

The analysis of interviews and media content in newspaper articles shows, that wellbeing is a topic that one the one hand concerns the local population a lot, and on the other hand has a lot of room for improvement according to the public discourse. The main findings of the interviews with experts from Kuala Lumpur speaking about the River of Life project open up a differentiated view. Even though the River of Life project is said to be planning big improvements for the quality of life to the people living close to the river, experts say so far, not much has been done for the improved wellbeing (“But if you can see the river itself, that’s not, that’s not have changed much […] they will ask again if the water quality is still improved“ [KL 2, interview in KL on 09. February 2021]). Still, it is acknowledged, that raising awareness and connecting people to the river is important. In most of the interviews it was made clear, that “increasing the health of the ecosystem increases the wellbeing of the people” (KL 2, interview in KL on 09. February 2021), as one expert put it. Following this, an opinion shared by many of the interviewed experts was that the water quality needs improvement: “We have three bridges crossing the river in my town and in the afternoon, you really can’t cross the river. It’s extremely smelly, you see, because the separation is wastewater industrial waste, everything goes into there. We even have this locals saying that you can find everything in Klang River, even dead body. You see, so that’s Klang River.“ (KL 4, interview in KL on 02. March 2021). In addition, after a close revision of the interviews conducted, it can be summarized, that projects like the River of Life are a good way to raise awareness and to bring infrastructure projects on their way, that make an improvement of wellbeing easier.

Wellbeing and the Chao Phraya River Promenade Project in Bangkok 

For the Chao Phraya River Promenade Project in Bangkok a lot of critical voices were heard (see our comments on some limitations of the research design). In contrast to the River of Life project in Kuala Lumpur the Chao Phraya River Promenade Project is still in the planning phase and people can’t talk about concrete steps that changed wellbeing and the quality of life in the area. Nevertheless, the common opinion of the participants in the research was that the project could not significantly improve the wellbeing of the people. Experts and other affected people are mostly concerned about the costs and the impact on the environment. One expert in Bangkok argues that “they no longer have this kind of water habitat for the fish and other water habitat to settle.“ (BKK 1, interview in Bangkok on 17. February 2021). A newspaper article from khaosodenglish portraits on people’s actions to underline their antipathy towards the project: “On Wednesday, members of Friends of the River gathered in Santichai Prakan Park to send a symbolic krathong into the river representing the 14 billion baht the junta wants to spend building concrete promenades they and others dismiss as one of the ugliest, most expensive and wasteful things that could be done to the river“ (khaosodenglish, “River’s Friends Float Hope for Public Hearings on 14B-Baht ‘Promenade’“, 26 November 2015). Also, relocation projects are feared to make space for newly built developments at the river front. The main concern seems to be the accessibility of the river. One interview partner put it like this: “I think as I said, I think people who living along the River I think they want to utilize the water right and whether it’s for that everyday living or for that fishing or that consultation or that could improve their living conditions“ (BKK 1, interview in Bangkok on 17. February 2021). Since people feel excluded from the planning process, the acceptance of the project is low. This also reflects what could be seen as the key message to the research question stated above. The Chao Phraya River Promenade Project is feared to fail to improve the wellbeing of the people due to a lack of participation and exploding costs. Furthermore, people are concerned about relocation projects and the impact on the environment. The following word cloud clarifies the aspects mentioned above. Is shows the most mentioned words from the interviews conducted and the newspaper articles coded. Topics like “people”, so concerns or happiness for the local population, or “living” and “community” show up in bigger letters, which can be interpreted as the topics people worry about the most. This image was also confirmed in the qualitative analysis of our data.

To sum up, development projects at riverfronts do have a major impact on the wellbeing of local populations. Unfortunately, the impact is not always positive and also may raise fears of the people concerning the environment and housing security. Then again, the realization of a big project on the riverfront can also lead the way to a significant increase in awareness and through this to a more participating and understanding population to help implement river cleaning projects and other types of projects to improve wellbeing. In the following part we will discuss our findings regarding the aspects of perception. 

 → text: Nina Debelius

Analysis of the research question regarding Perception

The following section summarizes the research findings on the perception of the river development projects “Chao Phraya River Promenade” (CPRPP) in Bangkok and “River of Life” (ROL) in Kuala Lumpur. This research question sought to answer how these projects are perceived and encountered by the affected population. The results represent the opinions of those we were able to recruit for interviews in English as well as digital media posts. The graphs shown below provide an overview of the many different statements on the perception of the ROL and the CPRPP. They were created from data of the qualitative analysis; the most important aspects are described in detail in the text.

How are development projects at riverfronts like the River of Life Campaign in Kuala Lumpur and the Chao Phraya River promenade project in Bangkok perceived by the affected population, experts and governmental organizations?

Perception of Chao Phraya River Promenade Project in Bangkok

The Chao Phraya River Promenade project is a controversial development project. A favorable view of the project was mainly found among government representatives. Diverse criticism of the CPRPP was expressed by interview partners as well as in social/digital media posts by NGOs, newspapers and local citizens. Overall, the negative views on the project of the various interest groups predominate (cf. diagrams below).

In the public debate the Thai government presented the project as a “New Landmark of Thailand” that would unlock the true potential of the Chao Phraya and offer a variety of benefits for pedestrians and cyclists as well as tourism. Implementation of the project would improve access to the river and create a public recreational space. In government opinion the project complies with all legal requirements and in the spirit of a “western development of riverfronts”, a great project whose realization should begin as soon as possible. Since the project serves public benefits, the cost of 14 billion Bath is also justified – according to government officials.

Various NGOs and Bangkok citizen have expressed criticism about the project. For example, it has been described as “ugly” or “overpriced”. The non-transparent and top-down planning process and approval as well as insufficient possibilities for participation were criticized. In a “top-down” and “one-fits-all” planning process, the needs of the local population were not included in the project design, resulting in the loss of unique neighborhoods and cultural heritage – as well as the forced relocations of informal settlements along the river that took place before the project was fully approved. Moreover, it was argued that there was a lack of institutions, partly illegal/unfair approach by the military government. In addition to these social and cultural problems, there were also fears of environmental problems related to the implementation of the project. The delayed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) backed these fears which lead to further discussions. The project has the potential to change the river flow eventually leading to drainage issues and an increased risk of urban flooding. Ferry traffic, water busses on the river and the economies of local communities will also be most likely adversely affected by the project.

Positive perception of the CPRPP; own representation from data of the qualitative analysis

Negative perception of the CPRPP; own representation from data of the qualitative analysis

Due to the predominantly negative perception and without a participatory planning process, the CPRP project had to face massive resistance from the population. Large parts of the civil society and various NGOs drew attention to the economic, environmental, cultural and social problems associated with the project, which led to a wider opposition to the project. “Opponents of the government’s plan to build a concrete promenade along the Chao Phraya River […] welcomed the news that a court ordered the project to be halted” (source: Khaosod English 2020, 6th February).

Perception of the River of Life Project in Kuala Lumpur

The River of Life Project is also a controversial river development program that has been implemented since 2009. Different interest groups have quite divergent perception of the project; however, we could find a more balanced number of positive and negative views on the project.

Proponents of the ROL cite the positive perception of the infrastructures built as part of the project. This promotes the accessibility and connectivity of the river. Furthermore, cleanup activities and a variety of awareness-raising activities have reduced pollution of the river by residents, improving the water quality. The perception of the river as an ecosystem and source of drinking water, not just a drainage system, has also changed because of the project. Due to the participatory approach, which was used during the project implementation, good communication, interaction, and the involvement of smaller grassroots programs, many people have become aware of the different functions of the river and its worthiness of protection.

Critics of the ROL project mentioned the underlying top-down planning process, which shaped the project design without a comprehensive sustainable strategy. The ROL was not holistically sustainable because of trade-offs between environmental and economic interests. Moreover, due to insufficient participation during the planning phase, the benefits of the project are not equally high for all groups. Furthermore, it is criticized that the water quality is still quite bad and measures to remove solid waste from the river were damaging the flora and fauna. In addition, the infrastructure that has been praised by others is – according to critics – of low quality and rather a façade, while cultural heritage has been destroyed during the construction works.

Positive perception of the ROL; own representation from data of the qualitative analysis

Negative perception of the ROL; own representation from data of the qualitative analysis

Overall, the perception of the ROL has been positive. This can be attributed to the involvement of the population in the implementation of measures, awareness-raising, educational work, and benefits regarding the accessibility to the river and at least to some extend improved water quality. The comparatively positive perception of the project is also related to the participatory character of project measures during the implementation phase. If participatory elements had been used already in the planning phase, cultural heritage problems, social problems and unequal benefits could have been avoided and needs of a broader group of stakeholders could have been taken into account. This could have led to the development of a sustainable strategy that would have improved society’s perception of the project and increased the benefits from the project measures. But it can be said that the ROL is a project with many good, if not yet mature, ideas and approaches and ” […] that through this project we manage to bridge the gap between the public community and the government agencies.” (KL 1, interview in KL on 02. February 2021)

Comparison of the projects and research question perception

We found that in both river development projects, the needs of the different social groups affected by the project were often neglected. Concomitantly, economic, ecological, and social trade-offs were made, some of which rather increased underlying problems which existed before. This resulted in a rather negative perception of the projects. The perception could be improved, if already during the planning phase, as well as during the implementation comprehensive participatory action was taken. In the following chapter, we will present the results of the social media analysis, in which we tried to reflect the perception of the River of Life Project based on the social media platform Twitter.

 → text: Daniel Hüttel

About Natural Language Processing as a remote research method

Due to COVID-19 the research methods had to be adapted for our remote research project. Natural Language Processing (NLP) complements our overall more qualitative research design, especially the implementation of expert interviews, with a more empirical and more quantitative approach and leads to a mixed method approach. Here, we used NLP for a Twitter sentiment analysis with Python and TextBlob, which is a library for processing textual data (Loria 2020). The sentiment analysis of Twitter tweets as a remote research method had the aim to provide information on the public perception of the “River of Life” project in Kuala Lumpur.

As part of artificial intelligence, NLP belongs to the discipline of computer science that tries to give computers the ability to understand written and spoken texts in the same way human beings can do. NLP is used in many areas and is intended to represent the interface between humans and computers, which is constantly being further developed and improved. NLP can be used for voice-controlled assistants such as Siri on smartphones or for language translation in real time such as Google translate (Hirschberg & Manning 2016: 261). In the field of Critical Data Science, producing such kind of data is controversial and critically discussed, since producing data is linked to knowledge production and is therefore a kind of power (Iliadis & Russo 2016: 1). The use of an automated textual data analysis method such as NLP simplifies the existing data to a certain extend. Some of the simplifications of such data analysis are presented here below.

In the following analysis it should be noted that digital platforms, such as Twitter, can be politicizing and marginalizing to a certain extent (Kitchin & Lauriault 2014). The analysis results presented here, do not contain every individual’s opinion. Thus, a glance at the statistical media usage in Malaysia is taken to get an impression of who could be excluded from the analysis. In general, anyone can have access to social media platforms like Twitter, but only 86 % of Malaysia’s population used social media in January 2021 (Kemp 2021). There is no specific data existing on the usage of Twitter in Malaysia. In any case, people with no access to internet, mobile phones or people who are not registered or active on Twitter are excluded from this analysis.

In the following, the method is explained step by step from data acquisition through data analysis to the results. You can learn more about each section by clicking on the respective boxes below.

 → text: Miriam Streitenberger 

References

Hirschberg, J., Manning, C.D. (2015): Advances in natural language processing. Science. Vol. 349, p. 261–266.

Kemp, S. (2021): Digital 2021: Malaysia. Accessed on: https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2021-malaysia.

Kitchin, R., Lauriault, T. P. (2014): Towards critical data studies: Charting and unpacking data assemblages and their work.

Loria, S. (2020): TextBlob: Simplified Text Processing. Accessed on: https://textblob.readthedocs.io/en/dev/

Reflections on the twitter analysis 

Overall, this method helps to get an overview of the public perception of the implemented city project “River of Life” in Kuala Lumpur. Nevertheless, the results of this method should not stand by themselves and should be viewed with a critical eye, due to the exclusion of certain population groups, language translating issues and the usage of automated text analyzing tools. Thus, it should be combined with other text analyzing methods.

Furthermore, Textblob evaluates half of all Tweets as “neutral”. For a proper analysis, these tweets would have to be considered in a further step and, if necessary, ranked manually as either positive or negative tweets.  Due to time limitation, it was not possible to read all 497 neutral Tweets and check their correct order.

In principle, the project seems to be received mainly positive on Twitter with an emphasis on words concerning the reputation of the project. This impression is covered by the results of the interviews which also have been analyzed.

→ text: Miriam Streitenberger 

public

“The project needs public involvement to improve its social and environmental sustainability” (Wancharoen, 2021). 

“[There is a] necessity for the inclusion of residents and their contribution” (Wancharoen, 2021). 

process

A policy process that will make sure, that money will be used wisely and not only for the developer, but “equally in terms of the health care, the quality of the housing, the public parks, the wellbeing, the quality of the water, the funding. So, everything is down to the wellbeing of the people (like you said)”. (BKK 1, interview in Bangkok on 17. February 2021)  

“…having a thought-out plan and a transparent process is really important” (BKK 2, interview in Bangkok on 18. February 2021). 

dialogue

“Because what the court said is that if the project was carried out this big it would create a lot of impact to the people’s health and wellbeing and technology. So, they need to carry out a proper process by listening to the people more than they did until now” (BKK 1, interview in Bangkok on 17. February 2021).  

“The dialogue that we try to do is an inclusive, cocreation and participation process to bring the developer, the government and community to sit on the same table and have a dialogue to see what is happening” (BKK 1, interview in Bangkok on 17. February 2021). 

river

“The River is a very important attribute to the city, it’s something that all the public should take the benefit with” (BKK 2, interview in Bangkok on 18. February 2021).

 

city

making it more green or sustainable as well as being an ecosystem for startups projects have to be sensitive to the environment, sensitive to community at every level, small businesses (BKK 2, interview in Bangkok on 18. February 2021).

improve
  • tackle the most problematic threats first: like flooding or water pollution or ecology
  • better quality of life for the people living along the river

(BKK 1, interview in Bangkok on 17. February 2021

conditions

Really look into the problems of the river: “I think if we kind of make sure that the water will become part of our life and maintain our assets. I think we need to look into the really the core of the problems” (BKK 2, interview in Bangkok on 18. February 2021).

project

Some cities even carry out pilot projects in small areas to try and then see the impact (BKK 1, interview in Bangkok on 17. February 2021).

Interpretation Ideal Future City  

Our Interview partners and the coded newspaper articles can mainly be interpreted with the concepts of the ethical city, the sustainable city and the resilient city. The word cloud above already gives a good glimpse to some relations and important aspects. If you click on the hotspots on the world cloud you can find some quotes from our interviews and the analyzed newspaper articles regarding the Ideal Future City. Unfortunately, almost no interview from Kuala Lumpur was coded with the Ideal Future City Code. 

How can we interpret our findings? 

Especially regarding the concept of the ethical city, we could find many quotes wishing for “solution inclusion” and uplifting public participation in the process, for example through a transparent process – open for dialogue. These findings mainly came up when we were asking about an alternative way to plan and implement the projects or asking about their perception of the projects. As some interview partners also said they do not object the whole idea, but mostly the process. Taking these aspects together the recommended course of action for city administration and urban planning is to involve the public in a serious and honest way. Moreover, important attributes to a city should be equally accessible for everyone in a city. Also, city planners should consider sustainable measures when designing new assets, as people were wishing for a greener and more sustainable city. This also means to tackle the most important problems first, like flooding and water pollution and before building a promenade. The following quote is a good example as a conclusion for our findings of the ethical city: “With the official launch of the Chao Phraya for All initiative yesterday, I only hope the team involved will apply the best possible methodology and engage actively with the public in a straightforward and sincere manner. Most importantly, the team has to make the project transparent, especially as regards public hearings — the one process that truly involves members of the public” (Wattanasukchai 2021). 

→ text: Silja Baumann

Our results in the context of Asian Urbanism

We tried to summarize some of the worlding practices that were mentioned with the Asian Urbanism codes, but we only found paragraphs suiting for modeling and inter-referencing. Again, most of the coded material is from BKK and almost non from KL. The word cloud above shows the 25 most important words, like the one for the ideal future city. Some words are similar, some are new. This time it doesn’t make sense to use pop ups, as the material could be condensed and transferred much more. In the end the following are the relevant aspects regarding Asian Urbanism: 

In regard of modeling, it is worth to mention, that both plans took successful projects of other cities as role model for their waterfront projects. 

Considering that the role models were also taken to legitimate unpopular measures, ignoring local and public opinions in BKK, this can be interpreted as inter-referencing. In the end the project was even halted by court. Also, many aspects have not been considered before the approval, like environmental and cultural impacts. Our interview partners and some newspaper articles criticized the top-down approach and that the public and even affected communities did not receive adequate information. A commentary in the Bangkok Post criticized the “one-size-fits-all approach that does not reflect the cultural heritage and landscape of the area” (Wattanasukchai 2021). And another interview partner said that the “consultation wasn’t a consultation at all” (BKK 2, interview in Bangkok on 18. February 2021). 

As a general comment on the urban developments in Southeast Asia an expert on wellbeing said: “And in terms of trying to understand the urbanisation process and especially urban planning, in a lot of these countries, you know Indonesia or Thailand or these fast-developing countries, urban planning is not effective, it’s not implemented” (BKK 3, interview in Bangkok on 02. March 2021). This quote reflects the sometimes enormous aspirations of copying another city but in a too high speed for a holistic approach. Also, in Kuala Lumpur an expert on water, energy and environment mentioned that: “Last year there was also a report that showed that some of these facade and also cosmetic things they did for the River of Life, are not suitable for our climate”. (KL 4, interview in KL on 02. March 2021). This statement can be interpreted as inter-referencing as well because a development project from elsewhere was used as a role model without adapting it to the local circumstances around the River of Life project.  

→ text: Silja Baumann

References

Wancharoen, S. (2021, May 14). Experts urge public input on promenade. Retrieved from https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/651040/experts-urge-public-input-on-promenade 

Wattanasukchai, S. (2021, May 14). Is promenade project really for all of us? Retrieved from https://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/915061/is-promenade-project-really-for-all-of-us- 

Summary

Our group’s research gained insights on the perception, participation and wellbeing of two major urban planning projects at waterfronts, the River of Life project in Kuala Lumpur and the Chao Phraya River Promenade in Bangkok.
Perception
In both river development projects, the needs of individual population groups are disregarded. In addition, there are economic, ecological and social trade-offs, some of which are intensified by the projects. This results in a negative perception of the projects. The perception seems to be improved, if already in the planning and also later in the implementation comprehensive participatory action is taken. In addition, the planning approach should be a comprehensive and sustainable to meet all dimensions of human needs. Analyzing social media platforms such as Twitter helps to get an impression of the public perception of the projects.
Participation
In summary, regarding our research on participation in Kuala Lumpur, it can be said that there are various efforts to involve the population. These mainly address the treatment of rivers and the environment in general. Nevertheless, the interviews reveal that the need for participation is a major issue and much still needs to be done to get sustainable behavior into people’s awareness. Furthermore, the number of people reached by these efforts is still quite modest, and there is room for improvement here as well.
In Bangkok, two aspects of participation are crucial. The first is the lack of participation in the planning phase of the project. The people affected were not involved in any decision-making process. These statements of the interview partners are confirmed by different media articles. The other aspect is the high level of participation in stopping this project under the given conditions. These efforts reached such a dimension that the project is actually halted at the moment.
Social media is a very important tool in today’s world. For the River of Life project, it is mainly used for information spreading, while in Bangkok it had a major impact on the protest movements against the project.
Wellbeing
To sum up, development projects at riverfronts do have a major impact on the wellbeing of the local population. Unfortunately, the impact is not always positive and goes along with many fears of the people concerning the environment and housing projects. On the other hand, the realization of a big project on the riverfront can also lead the way to a significant raise of awareness and through this to a more participating and understanding population to help implement river cleaning projects and other types of projects to improve wellbeing.
Conclusion
These results also comply with our findings regarding Asian Urbanism and the Ideal Future City (IFC). Concerning the concepts of the ILF we found many hints for “solution inclusion”. In the interviews and newspaper articles it was repeatedly stated that the planning process has to be transparent to the public through a dialogue with all concerned parties. Furthermore, we found statements that the city has to be more sustainable and resilient. Relating to the theory of Asian Urbanism, both projects were planned because of role models in other parts of Asia and the world, which can be matched with inter-referencing.

→ text: Silja Baumann

Chapter 5:

Urban Flooding

Urban Flooding in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur

Urban flooding is one of the main reasons for economic damage and loss of life in the Asian metropoles Kuala Lumpur (KL) and Bangkok (BKK). It is initiated by flash floods, river floods (both of which are often associated with the Monsoon seasons) or coastal floods, but it is primarily due to poor drainage options caused by urbanization and its consequences. The overly populated urban spaces and increasing infrastructure result in an imbalance between urbanization and sustainability. While there is an increasing need for urban development, the sustainability factor that is demanded by the sensitive environments of these cities is often not considered sufficiently, leaving Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok vulnerable and less resilient to natural disasters (Yusmah et al. 2020).

To battle the flooding issue, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok have introduced structural and non-structural mitigation projects such as the SMART tunnel (in Kuala Lumpur) or improving the drainage capacity of Khlongs (canals) in the case of Bangkok. This chapter highlights the major results of researching the status, difficulties, and possibilities of implementing such mitigation projects, their efficiency as well as the engagement of different stakeholders and the community. 

Research Design

To conduct this research on the implementation of flood control projects and relevant contextual factors, a mixed-methods approach was adopted combining both quantitative and qualitative data. For this study, quantitative data was collected from satellite imagery allowing an insight in and aspects of the temporal development of projects, while qualitative data was gained from semi-structured expert interviews for a better understanding of the challenges of the projects as well as the role of key stakeholders. Exploring the community’s engagement in projects was another aspect of the qualitative research design.

The first component, the quantitative satellite imagery analysis, was used to assess water body development in KL or the progress of projects on the riverfront in BKK. Comparing satellite imagery from Google Earth Pro from different years provides insight into the development of projects and shows the change in the natural or urban environment in the course of the project. The use of Google Street Views gives another impression of the sites. This temporal image analysis was placed on different points of interest in the two cities: in BKK, highlighting components of the drainage infrastructure such as Khlongs and necessary pumping stations, and in KL it focused on the detention basins for the SMART tunnel.

Building on and complementing that method, guided semi-structured expert interviews aligned with the research questions (Mayring 2010) provided an expert perspective on specific issues, and gave more detailed insights and background information on projects and the history and reasons for actions of local actors. The analysis of the interviews was conducted with the help of MAXQDA and structured according to the approach of Kuckartz (2010).

The following overview maps include the results of the remote sensing analysis and provide an initial overview of points of interest for urban flooding in both cities and further lead to the initial findings derived from the expert interviews about the progress and major challenges of flood control projects.

 → text: Jil Jaumann, Johanna Roll, Karolin Voßbeck

References

Kuckartz, U. (2010). Einführung in die computergestützte Analyse qualitativer Daten.

Mayring, P. (2010). Qualitative Inhaltsanalyse. Grundlagen und Techniken. 11. Aufl., Weinheim/ Basel: Beltz.

Yusmah, M. Y., Bracken, L. J., Zahden, S., & Hassan, N. (2020): Understanding urban flood vulnerability and resilience: a case study of Kuantan, Pahang, Malaysia. In: Natural Hazards 101 (2).

Remote Sensing Analysis – Overview on urban flooding

As mentioned, historical satellite imagery in Google Earth Pro was used to analyze various points of interest (PoI) at different key spots for urban flooding. The points of interest are either crucial human-environment developments contributing to flood risk or to exemplify structural measures for flood mitigation and the change in environment necessary for their construction. The resulting overview maps give the opportunity to interactively explore those selected PoI. Clicking the map on the various points will provide an impression from on site, also as some PoI are further illustrated by embedding street views from Google Maps.

The intention of the remote sensing analysis was to contribute to the understanding of the progress of major structural mitigation and adaptation projects regarding urban flooding. However, due to the nature of the method, the informative value regarding the research questions was found to be restricted given the lack of information on exact locations of specific projects and as one is bound by the temporal and spatial resolution of satellite imagery. Also, due to the lack of reliable documentation in English language, it was often not possible to uncover details to the respective PoI. Further, it must be stressed that the presented points provide only a small selection of locations relevant to urban flooding in the respective city and therefore cannot claim representativity. Nevertheless, the temporal comparison of certain points provides great insight into the changes of the natural respectively urban environment as consequence of structural measures.

Bangkok

Based on the focus of the first research question on specific flood mitigation and adaptation projects, the improvement of the flow capacity of the drainage system was of special interest for Bangkok. In this context, the canals within the city are a very crucial element for naturally draining and diverting water to the sea. However, with urbanization many canals have been filled and sealed to build streets and buildings. Also, there is a lack of slope and low elevation within the city given the coastal location and further human-induced factors, which makes pumping stations and flood gates necessary for draining water into the canal and river system (Komori et al. 2012: 45).

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Figure 5.1: Points of interest for urban flooding in Bangkok

In 2010, the Khlong Lad Pho Floodgate (PoI 1) was opened as a royal initiative by His Majesty Rama IX to improve the direct water flow of the Chao Praya River to the sea shortcutting the 18km long meander of the river. The project further involved the widening of the canal and installation of flood gates. While its construction required the relocation of settlements, the structural measure is a crucial flood protection for the nearby districts (Songkranongklongjai 2014). The construction of the Drainage Water Canal (PoI 2) and connected Drainage Canal Water Bridge (PoI 3) is another measure to protect the Suvarnabhumi Airport from flooding which has been built in the wetland area in Samut Prakan and has shown to be efficient during the flooding 2011 (Barrow n.d.). PoI 4 highlights in temporal comparison the widening of a section of Khlong Bang Keng, one major canal in Bangkok, from which water overflowed on the highway during the flood 2011 (PoI 5). The widening of canals is one measure to increase the flow capacity, while it is restricted by nearby formal and informal settlements which cannot easily be relocated and is often difficult to implement (Assistant Professor AIT 2021).

It was mentioned that flood mitigation in Bangkok is highly dependent on pumping stations for draining the water such as the Bang Sue Pump Station (PoI 6), one station of many for draining water to the Chao Praya river, a station southwest to the airport (PoI 7) or the Phra Khanong Pumping Station (PoI 9). There are many other pumping stations that vary in size and capacity, some of which have been further upgraded following the 2011 flood (Saito 2011). On satellite imagery, however, they are not easily to detect. Flood gates, such as the Lad Pho Floodgate (PoI 1), are another crucial structural element for controlling the water flow within the city. The Phayawik Floodgate (PoI 8) located in Khlong Phaya Weik is another example.

Besides the sample of structural flood mitigation measures within the city, the map also highlights some crucial issues that contribute to the flood problem such as waste clogging canals and pumping stations (PoI 9) or the drastic change in environment as consequence of urbanization (PoI 10).

→ text: Johanna Roll

Kuala Lumpur

The structural measure in Kuala Lumpur which was chosen for our research was the Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel (SMART) because of the innovation and the newness of the project. The SMART was opened in July 2007 because of the Klang River Flood Mitigation Project with the goal to protect the center of the city from flooding. The tunnel is meant to function as both a motorway to ease traffic congestions in the south of the city center and in case of flooding as a flood channel by diverting overflowing water from the Klang river into the tunnels before it can enter the city center (Ithnin 2016, Kamis et al. 2010).

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Figure 5.2: Points of interest for urban flooding in Kuala Lumpur with focus on the SMART tunnel

The first four points of interest are based on the components of SMART from the Department of Irrigation and Drainage. The components of SMART include areas which are prone to flooding as well as essential holding ponds and confluences which relate to the function of SMART (Department of Irrigation and Drainage 2017).

Berembang holding pond (PoI 1) is located at the confluence of the Klang and the Ampang rivers. It is the point where water is collected and, when a moderate to prolonged major storm happens, will fill and divert access water into SMART (Department of Irrigation and Drainage 2017). PoI 2 is located at the end of SMART where the water gets released out of the tunnel. Here, the water gets stored in the Taman Desa Storage Reservoir and is slowly released back into the Karayong river. In diverting the water directly from the Klang and Ampang rivers into the Kerayong river, flood prone areas in the city center are avoided. PoI 3 is located at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers, which is also included in the flood prone area. PoI 4 is also located in a flood prone area along the Klang river near the city center. The first four points of interest are essential locations for understanding the function and the progress of SMART; however, the function of SMART can be compromised when maintenance is not done properly or when rubbish blocks the drains prohibiting water to pass into different holding areas. Therefore, it is also essential to have other options for flood management in case one method does not function properly. PoI 5 is an example of a holding pond which is another structural method for flood mitigation. It is also located at the University of Malaya, where many experts who shared their knowledge and experiences with us are located.

→ text: Iris Trikha

References

Barrow, R. (n.d.). Chonlahan Phichit Irrigation and Drainage Canal (Suvarnabhumi Airport area). https://tipprojects.com/page-22817-chonlahan-phichit-irrigation-and-drainage-canal-suvarnabhu.html.

Department of Irrigiation and Drainage (2017). SMART Project. https://www.water.gov.my/index.php/pages/view/430

Ithnin, M. S. (2016). Flood occurence, smart tunnel operating system and traffic flow: A case of Kuala Lumpur smart tunnel, Malaysia. Master thesis. University Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia.

Kamis, A., Setan, H., Fung, P. L. C. (2010). The application of surveying techniques in Kuala Lumpur Smart tunnel project

Komori, D., Nakamura, S., Kiguchi, M., Nishijima, A., Yamazaki, D., Suzuki, S. & Oki, T. (2012). Characteristics of the 2011 Chao Phraya River flood in central Thailand. Hydrological Research Letters, 6, 41-46.

Saito, N. (2014). Challenges for adapting Bangkok’s flood management systems to climate change. Urban climate, 9, 89-100.

Songkranongklongjai. (2014, November 26). Klong Lad Pho flood Gate. https://songkranongklongjai.wordpress.com/2014/11/26/klong-lad-pho-flood-gate/ 

Assistant Professor, Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Climate Change and Sustainable Development Program, interview on 2.3.2021

Analysis and Interpretation

The following is an analysis and interpretation of the results of conducted interviews about the issue of urban flooding in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. The interpretations are based on the interviewees’ replies and respectively subdivided according to three leading research questions. For Bangkok six expert interviews were conducted, while in Kuala Lumpur five experts and two lay people were interviewed.

Research Question 1: Actions addressing the issue of urban flooding

The first research question regarding flooding in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur was aimed at how the cities tackle the pressing issue of urban flooding and the progress of major structural projects addressing mitigation and adaptation, specifically the Major Canals in Bangkok and the SMART Tunnel in Kuala Lumpur respectively. Based on their respective expertise, the experts provided different and supplementary information on this topic.

Figure 5.3: Monsoon floods at Don Muang Airport, Bangkok (source: United Nations under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Bangkok

For Bangkok, improving the flow capacity of the drainage system within the city, particularly the major canals, was of greatest interest. Through the interviews, it became clear that a lot was invested in infrastructural measures in order to also benefit economically, for example through dams and the generation of electricity. Predominantly mentioned were the dams north or upstream of Bangkok, pumping stations and huge underground canals in the city. It was striking that these measures were mainly implemented in the BMA, while the BRA (Bangkok rural area) was rather neglected. Due to the geographic location in a delta and the lack of slope, the water drains inadequately. For this reason, there are many pumps installed throughout the city to divert the water.  Especially after the floods in 2011, some measures such as pumping stations and underground canals were significantly rebuilt, expanded or newly implemented.

Bangkok International Airport was constructed on a low-lying drained wetland. To prevent flooding there a drainage canal between the airport and the sea was built that includes a bridge over a coastal road in Bang Pu district between small communities and some shrimp farms. Due to the delta location and heavier rainfall, the sea can rise higher than the land. When the floods are at their peak, the water will not exceed the walls of the bridge and flood the local communities and the airport.

The Kaem Ling project (“monkey cheeks”) is the leading concept for overcoming the issue of flooding in the city. It is a flood protection measure based on the vision of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand (Rama IX). Therefore, water is stored in northern Thailand, slowing down its progress towards Bangkok. This enables it to be used when the rain subsides. For example the design of the Centenary Park at Chulalongkorn University was also inspired by it. The park provides a green space for the city’s residents and at the same time an artificial wetland with a rain garden, a retention pond and an underground water drainage system (ONEP, Environmental Office, interview on 22.02.2021).

Nevertheless, it seems that non-structural projects have not yet really been considered by the government, as economic interests are paramount. Foreign Governments (e.g. Germany and Australia) promote flood prevention and adaptation projects (interview on 22.02.2021).

→ text: Karolin Voßbeck and Johanna Roll

Figure 5.4: A flooded street during the monsoon season in Bangkok (source: K. Grenet under  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )

Kuala Lumpur

For Kuala Lumpur the first part of the interviews focused on the expert’s views on the flooding issue and the city’s way of dealing with it. Results were astonishing as opinions were alike on some topics, yet contraditorary on others.

All interviewees agreed that the major issue with flooding in KL is its geographical location in a river catchment and the ongoing urbanization of this hyper sensitive environment. The part of the Klang river that is going through the city of KL is entirely concreted, allowing for no natural drainage of the river’s water thus exaberating overflow in case of extreme rainfall and leading to major floods.  Climate change and its consequences as well as increasing urban densitiy due to population growth have led to an aggravation of problems. Hence, it has become increasingly difficult to mitigate flooding events.

Kuala Lumpur’s main measurements are structural such as the Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel (SMART) and its retention ponds. The SMART tunnel was built as way of reducing traffic in the city center as well as saving it from major flooding events by redirecting overflowing river water. The tunnel operates majorly in three different modes. In mode one the tunnel‘s two levels act as traffic lanes. In mode two the upper level stays open, while the lower level is closed and used as flooding passage. In case of extreme rainfall the third mode is activated closing both levels for motorists – allowing for flood passage once all cars have left the tunnel. The tunnel operates automatically activating modes according to the river’s water levels which is measured by sensors. The Department of Irrigation and Drainage claims that since the implementation of the tunnel there have not been any major floods due to the overflow of the Klang river (interview on 11.2.2021).

Apart from seasonal floods caused by the overflowing Klang River there is also the issue of flash floods that the SMART tunnel cannot mitigate. Flash floods occur when garbage blocks drainages so that in case of excessive rainfall water cannot be directed into the existing drainage system but will flood the city as surface runoff instead. In comparison to the time before the SMART tunnel, the potential 0.3 meters of water that nowadays covers the city center after a flash flood is significantly lower than the 1.5 meters that used to cover the streets after a major river overflow (Engineer at the Department of Irrigation and Drainage, expert for the field civil engineering, interview on 11.2.2021).  

Different experts on the other hand are of the opinion that the SMART tunnel won’t be as efficient in mitigating flooding events in the long run, especially when considering changing rainfall patterns due to Climate Change. In an attempt to find other solutions experts are looking at hydraulic dams upstream from KL that function in a dual way: As electricity sources and water mitigation measurements. These damns are mitigating by delaying waterflow, thus trying to manage the amount of water that goes into the lower parts of the river. Another solution suggests to enlarge existing retention ponds since Kuala Lumpur is running out of space to build new structures. At the same time many of the existing measurements are coming to an end of their capacity demanding innovative and sustainable solutions. Those existing retention ponds could simultaneously be used as recreation areas and/or water resources in drier areas. 

Non-structural measurements on the other hand have not been focussed on as much, yet started to become more and more significant in the adaptation, mitigation and resilience process. There is the river of life campaign that experts briefly mentioned (the project is explained in depth in the Wellbeing chapter). Besides, there are few but important projects trying to educate people living upstream from Kuala Lumpur. These people as guessed by experts may be responsible for a lot of the garbage that damages the SMART tunnel’s sensors so the government pays lay people to report back to them and keep an eye on the river pollution in certain villages.

→ text: Jil Jaumann and Iris Trikha

Research Question 2: Challenges and solutions regarding implementation of measurements

The consecutive question guiding the research was destined to analyze the challenges regarding the implementation of flood mitigation and adaptation projects and how they can be overcome.

Bangkok

The combination of the various problems with the big flood event in 2011, e.g. when the irrigation department decided to store the water in upstream dams instead of periodically releasing it, resulted in the issue of not enough drainage at the time, and the existing waterways in the city were blocked for various reasons including waste or not enough capacity. So that was a series of poor decisions, poor management of the dams and the faulty focus of urbanization before the event of 2011. Similar institutional challenges appear to continue until today, communication should be improved.

It became clear from the expert interviews that the integration of green spaces is seen as an important means of prevention and protective measures against flooding in the national adaptation plan. This should definitely be integrated and considered in urban planning. Not only large-scale structural measures protect the population, but also measures at all different levels should be undertaken to achieve the largest possible base for a rapid adaptation of the metropolis. Currently, when people think of infrastructure, they still think of structural infrastructure. A common suggestion from interviewees was to clarify responsibilities and integrate nature-based adaptation concepts with conventional infrastructure that is already in place. Green spaces would be more beneficial than conventional infrastructure not only for addressing the problem but also for local people. The Centenary Park at Chulalongkorn University is an example for this (Assistant Professor, Asian Institute of Technology, interview on 18.2.2021).

Repetitively, the sewage system is described as inadequate and outdated. In most cases, it is also connected to the waste management and stormwater system, which can lead to further problems during floods such as health issues. The Khlongs are often mentioned, which could contribute greatly to solving the problem. Especially since Bangkok had a functioning network of water drainage with the Khlongs. Yet, they were gradually sealed due to the pressure of rapid urbanization and the accumulation of capital. For this reason it would make sense to return to more natural solutions and a continuous water network and linkages would help (interviews on 17., 18. & 22.2.2021).

The surrounding land is mostly wetland, which could also absorb water. However, this is also being built on to expand the urban building area. An example of this is the Bangkok International Airport, built in 2006, which is one of the largest international airports in Southeast Asia. The swamp was drained for this purpose, and here, too, soil subsidence played a detrimental role. In the interviews it was mentioned that private capital is often invested in infrastructure projects and real estate. Thus, there are conflicts of interest between the government and the needs of the population. Yet, there is still a lack of understanding and awareness that there are also other concepts for tackling the flooding issue in urban environments (e.g. sponge city). To overcome this problem, the importance of holistic urban planning must be understood and ultimately implemented, knowledge from other cities and disciplines must be incorporated, and cooperative work must be undertaken.

Since urban planning in general and the land use plan were introduced so late, too much unplanned urbanization has occurred. The importance of green spaces, the connections of the water network are all somehow still neglected. Further, there is still a lack of consensus especially in politics. This often contradicts the knowledge and satisfaction of many experts. The economic interests of the government are considered too high (interview on 18.02.2021).

→ text: Karolin Voßbeck and Johanna Roll

Figure 5.5: A flooded street in Kuala Lumpur during the raining season (source: G. Houston under public domain)

Kuala Lumpur

Expert interviews showed that the main challenges regarding implementation of flood adaption and mitigation strategies included trash clogging drainage systems, cost, and population density.

An engineer at the Department of Irrigation and Drainage said that, due to the massive amounts of rubbish that is produced by the growing population, drainage systems do not work effectively because they get clogged and instruments which are used to measure flood risk can get damaged. Experts spoke about projects like the River of Life which educates the community about how to take care of the river. In doing this, the river can become cleaner and structural measures can become more effective (interview on 11.2.2021).

Education also plays a big role when it comes to raising awarenes to the dangers, rapidness and consequences of an overflowing river. It is crucial since sirens or government officials trying to warn people prior to an actual flooding event are often ignored – resulting in even more severe consequences and potential deaths. Reasons for this ignorance and indifference are often based on a lack of knowledge and trust. According to some experts villagers often feel like they know the river since they have been living close to it their entire lives, not being aware of climate change and urbanization leading to different rain patterns and changing the intensity of the river’s overflow.

The damage of expensive instruments and the maintenance and unclogging of drains is also extremely costly, yet essential for the further success of structural measures like the SMART tunnel. The cost associated with maintenance and damage is high, and this cost, combined with the cost of construction, makes structural measures like the SMART tunnel less desirable to the local people in Kuala Lumpur because they would like to see governmental funds being distributed differently and more efficiently. Experts suggested improving structural measures which already exist to save on costs. For example, deepening a retention pond is less costly in the long run than constructing new mitigation projects like the SMART tunnel.

Improving structural measures which already exist is also a solution to the challenge of a growing population in an already dense urban area. The population density in Kuala Lumpur is a challenge for the implementation of structural measures because there is an ever-growing disparity of space to develop, and improving already existing structures is just one solution to this problem. As mentioned above the main challenge for Kuala Lumpur is that it exists in a river catchment, so flooding is always an issue. Another expert suggested moving the urban development to other areas outside of the river catchment to reduce the population within the river catchment. This solution, however, comes with its own set of challenges due to people’s sense of place and the homes and families which they have built in Kuala Lumpur.

In accordance to all experts, flooding will always be an issue in the city, hence, focus needs to be on sustainable and lasting solutions that take into account the nature of the city’s sensitive environment, the costs and lack of space for building new mitigation measurements, and the need for implementing more non-structural measurements that will engage and educate people to raise river awareness.

→ text: Jil Jaumann and Iris Trikha

Figure 5.6: A typical stretch of the Khlang River, which is enclosed in a concrete bed almost everywhere in the urban area of Kuala Lumpur (source: Tramontane under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Research question 3: Community engagement

Within the analysis, the third question on the community engagement was perceived as supplementary and optional perspective to the main research questions. The interviewed experts however could provide some valuable insight in how the community is and can be integrated in the respective mitigation project.

Bangkok

Regarding the involvement of the communities, based on the interviews it was found, that a change of mindset must happen. The importance of small projects and the effectiveness of individuals and groups is not yet recognized – this is perhaps because of the huge population in the city. Partly, there is a presumption that at some point the people concerned will stop relying only on the state and organize themselves, do their own things.

The interviewees made clear that community-based, creative projects can provide great value. Everyone can help and make a big difference. One example is a small festival outside Bangkok that aimed to clean up the canals before the monsoon season and rid them of trash. This competition to see which boat ended up collecting the most trash is a fun solution that not only did good, but also raised awareness in the community. The company that initiated this took care of the organization and the small amount of funding (Assistant Professor, Asian Institute of Technology, interview on 2.3.2021).

→ text: Karolin Voßbeck and Johanna Roll

Kuala Lumpur

Expert interviews did not show a specific community project which is involved in the SMART. However, community engagement was mentioned by some experts as a solution to the problem of waste in the rivers and clogged drainage systems (see Research Question 1 and 2, Kuala Lumpur). While this solution is already seeing some success through projects like the River of Life Campaign, it can be a challenge to get some communities involved. For example, an expert pointed out that the communities who do work to combat flooding are often those whose property values are directly affected. Therefore, resident property owners who are at risk for losing property value due to a flooding event will increase community engagement in effected areas. While this does indeed help to improve the effects of flooding events in some areas, it can seem staged by some researchers.

When speaking with local people living in Kuala Lumpur, they said that flooding does not really feel like such a big issue in their area which could also be a reason for some communities being less involved. If the local people do not directly see the impacts of flooding, they are less likely to become involved in a community project which combats flooding. 

→ text: Jil Jaumann and Iris Trikha

Figure: 5.7: The critical issues displayed above were extracted from expert interviews and organized into a Venn-Diagram in order to see where they overlap when comparing Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Each critical issue was then categorized into a social, political, or ecological issue. Some issues were left uncategorized due to the issue being relevent for multiple categories.

Providing a different perspective on the analysis of the research, word clouds containing the most frequent words were created with the help of MAXQDA in order to determine any regularities and frequencies of mention of certain words. Similar words were reduced to their base form and thus summarized (lemmatization). The size of the words represents the frequency of word occurrence.

Figure 5.8

Bangkok

In the interviews with the experts from Bangkok, there was a lot of talk overall about the first-time introduction of a land use plan in 2008 (word: plan). In addition, it became clear that there are rather many infrastructural projects such as dams and the canals playing an important role in Bangkok, but more and more of the canals are sealed to create more construction areas.

Also, management and planning were often talked about especially in the Bangkok Metropolitan Area (BMA) as it is the responsible stakeholder for most of the legal provisions regarding the implementation of activities. The level of communication was also frequently addressed, as responsibilities for disaster management are sometimes rather unclear and unstructured. In the 2011 floods, a concatenation of poor decision-making, poor communication, and different conflicts of interest would have been aggravating.

Figure 5.9

Kuala Lumpur

In the interviews with the experts from Kuala Lumpur, there was a lot of talk overall about river management and government influence. Here, catchment measures, retention basins, such as the SMART Tunnel, and ponds are more likely to be implemented to protect against the heavy rainfalls. A big problem is also the rubbish in the water bodies, which so worsens the capacity of these. As in Bangkok, the money in the system plays an important role for the developers in deciding mitigation measures. Likewise, the structures of authority are difficult to navigate when implementing projects.

Summary Urban Flooding

Based on the interviews that were conducted as well as the remote sensing analysis, some points can be summarized according to the research questions guiding this working group. The three research questions examined for this working group include the following:

  • How do Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur tackle the pressing issue of urban flooding and what is the progress of major structural projects addressing mitigation and adaptation, specifically the Major Canals in Bangkok and the SMART Tunnel in Kuala Lumpur respectively?
  • What are the major challenges regarding the implementation, and how can they be overcome?
  • How is the community engaged in the respective mitigation projects?

For the investigation of these questions, a mixed-methods approach was used. Historical satellite imagery from Google Earth Pro highlighted certain points of interest for urban flooding in both cities and was useful for addressing the first research question. The qualitative data which was collected from the semi-structured expert interviews had great value for the research, because the interviews could be structured to fit the interviewees expertise, which provided space for all research questions to be addressed. For each city, six interviews could be conducted, and each interview gave interesting insights into further contextual factors depending on the background of the experts.

It was found that the SMART tunnel in Kuala Lumpur is an example of a structural measure that has had short-term success, in that it protects parts of the city center from monsoon floods, however, it does not protect a larger area and does not prevent flash floods due to the prediction time needed to convert the water. The SMART tunnel is also expensive and time consuming to maintain, which can compromise the effectiveness. Although it was found that the tunnel has noticeably reduced the amount of seasonal flooding in Kuala Lumpur, the unpredictability of fluctuating monsoons, and changing rain volumes make the long-term success of structural measures like the SMART tunnel difficult to predict. Furthermore, urban concentration and waste makes the maintenance of drainages and other structural measures essential in order to function properly.

Similarly, improving and maintaining the flow and drainage capacity of Khlongs in Bangkok is an essential structural measure, besides the extension of water pumps, flood gates and drainage tunnels. However, while the implementation of those projects is slowly ongoing, the issue of urban flooding is further aggravated due to the sealing of the canals in favor of roads. Also, as the widening of canals is difficult due to bordering settlements, those measures need to be improved in a long lasting and nature-based way.

Overall, structural measures need to be combined with other structural measures that have already been implemented and also have to be mixed with non-structural measures. For both Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, it was found that urbanization and increasing population combined with the waste that accompanies development can be overcome with a focus on community involvement. Measures which already exist can be combined with nature-based solutions. International cooperation as well as a good horizontal and vertical cooperation between stakeholders would also be beneficial for an implementation of these solutions.

In encouraging this integrated approach for Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, governments can approach the issue of flooding in a way that has the potential to be long lasting.

→ text: Iris Trikha and Johanna Roll

 

Chapter 6:

Mobilities

Urban Mobilities in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur   

In our group of five students, we were interested in all aspects related to students’ mobility practice. Therefore, we tried to find out more about students’ transportation practice, especially in terms of destinations, distances, and trip purposes, as well as the mobility options they required before the Covid-19 pandemic. To do this, we conducted research in both cities, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. We were interested in experts’ opinions, so we interviewed several university professors. We also distributed a questionnaire to university students to gain insight into their perspectives. In the following part we would like to give you an overview about our research design, our results of our research and a short insight in the discussion of the results.

→ text: Chiara Neises and Theresa Gorbach

 

Figure 6.1: Our group members ‘in a Thai bus’

Research Design and Methods 

The objective of this research project consists of two parts: The recording and comparison of the traffic practice of students in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur on the one hand, and the analysis of the traffic situation in the two cities from the point of view of student mobility on the other. In the analysis of the students’ traffic practice, four aspects are examined:

1.       The destinations the students in the two cities travel to most frequently over the course of a week, the distances they cover thereby and the purposes they pursue with these trips are examined. During our research we decided to also record the students’ places of stay. These results are presented below but not listed in the research questions diagram.

2.       The means of transportation used by the students are investigated to gain information on the proportional shares of different modes of transportation in student trips. The shares will be compared to the modal split of the general population as known from secondary literature.

3.       The technological navigation tools used by the students are analyzed. In the context of this research project the general term “technological navigation tools” includes apps, websites and the likes which can be used to find and navigate along routes through a city.

4.       The mobility options the students dream of are collected. They are used in combination with the identified strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the transportation systems in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur regarding student mobility to create ideas to improve the transportation system in the two cities.

Figure 6.2: Research Goals Group Urban Mobilities

Research design
The research followed a mixed methods research design that combined qualitative and quantitative data collection methods in several phases. In phase I the data needed for the subsequent analysis was gathered. The data acquisition was dived into two subphases: In phase Ia secondary data was analyzed to gain a first insight into the topic. In phase Ib, both qualitative expert-interviews and a quantitative survey were conducted. In the second phase the collected data was analyzed to answer the research questions listed before. In the third and final phase, measures for improving the traffic system in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur based on the ideas and suggestions of the experts and students were highlighted.

Figure 6.3: Research Design Group Urban Mobilities

Methodology
In the expert interviews, we talked to one professor and one external expert in Bangkok and four professors in Kuala Lumpur. For the evaluation of the qualitative data a qualitative content analysis was performed with the MaxQDA software. The quantitative research was realized through a questionnaire in each city. The questionnaires targeted university students in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. The sampling was done mainly through the snowball method and self-activation, whereby the questionnaires were advertised on internet forums or university websites. Unfortunately, we only got nine answers from Kuala Lumpur and 35 from Bangkok. The collected quantitative data was analyzed using the statistics software SPSS. This means that the data for both cities only reveals a glimpse into a few students lives and does not represent the larger student populations in both cities. We have conducted a quantitative analysis of the data nonetheless as learning how to do such analysis is part of our programme’s task. We ask the reader to keep this limitation in mind when looking at the results and our interpretations.

Another method used in our research was the SWOT diagram. The experts were given a SWOT diagram in which they could enter possible strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) for the transport system in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.

→ text: Chiara Neises and Theresa Gorbach

Figure 6.4: Methodology Group Urban Mobilities

In the following section, we will discuss the results of our research. In doing so, we differentiate the results between Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok and revisit our previously presented research questions in the presentation of results.

 

 

Our findings

Kuala Lumpur

Students’ Places of Stay

The conducted expert interviews revealed that students in Kuala Lumpur live in roughly equal proportions either within their campuses or in regular quarters of the city. It should be mentioned that some universities have rules that make it mandatory for undergraduate students to reside inside their university campuses. Students that live outside their campus often prefer living areas close to their university campus as well as to a public transportation station (expert in the field of Urban and Transport Planning, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 18th February 2021; expert in the field of Urban and Transport Planning, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 17th February 2021; expert in the field of Urban and Regional Planning, written interview in Kuala Lumpur in February 2021; expert in the field of Traffic and Transportation, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 8th February 2021).

Student Destinations and Purposes

Regarding the students’ trip destinations, the experts explained that the university campuses in Kuala Lumpur provide many of the goods and services the students need in their daily lives. Delivery services provide additional commodities, even on campus. Due to the abundance of goods and services provided on or near the campuses the students travel to other parts of Kuala Lumpur predominantly to visit recreational destinations such as shopping malls or homes of family and friends. One exception are libraries across the city, which are visited by the students. For the students, living in the city, the university however is the most prominent destination (expert in the field of Urban and Transport Planning, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 18th February 2021; expert in the field of Urban and Transport Planning, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 17th February 2021; expert in the field of Urban and Regional Planning, written interview in Kuala Lumpur in February 2021; expert in the field of Traffic and Transportation, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 8th February 2021). The assessment of the experts aligns well with the answers given by the students in the quantitative survey (see figure 6.5): Recreational purposes such as “leisure activities” or “visit friends or family” account for more than 30% of their trips. The commute to the university is with more than 14 % another important factor in their mobility practice (see figure 6.5). One aspect, that was not brought up directly in the expert interviews, however, are the trips the students make when commuting to part time jobs. According to our survey these trips account for a good 10% percent of the trips done by students in Kuala Lumpur (see figure 6.5).

→ text: Stefanie Decker, Elisa Kuntner, David Reisenauer

Figure 6.5: Reasons for Travelling Kuala Lumpur (Source: quantitative survey with students in Kuala Lumpur, n = 9, please consider the limitations to this study in the methodology section)

Distances Travelled

General information on the distances traveled by the students in Kuala Lumpur could not be obtained through the expert interviews (expert in the field of Urban and Transport Planning, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 18th February 2021; expert in the field of Urban and Transport Planning, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 17th February 2021; expert in the field of Urban and Regional Planning, written interview in Kuala Lumpur in February 2021; expert in the field of Traffic and Transportation, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 8th February 2021). In the quantitative survey however, most students said they traveled about 6 to 15 km daily on workdays (see figure 6.6). This fits the information gathered on the students starting points and destinations: Since most of the students’ needs can be satisfied close by the university, where most of the students live, most of them don’t have to travel far on an average weekday.

→ text: Stefanie Decker, Elisa Kuntner, David Reisenauer

Figure 6.6: Average Distances Travelled by Students in Kuala Lumpur on a weekday (Source: quantitative survey with students in Kuala Lumpur, n =9, please consider the limitations to this study in the methodology section)

Bangkok

Students’ Places of Stay

The conducted expert interviews revealed that students in Bangkok live in roughly equal proportions either within their campuses or in regular quarters of the city. The students that live outside their campus often prefer cheap accommodations close to their university campus (expert in the field of human geography (recent focus on urbanisation, digitisation and mobilities) interviewed in Innsbruck on 17th February 2021; expert in the field of Urban Transport Planning, interviewed in Bangkok on 24th February 2021).

Student Destinations and Purposes

Regarding students’ trip destinations the experts interviewed for Bangkok said that the university campuses provide most of the goods and services the students need in their daily lives. Therefore, students leave their campus or direct living area mostly to visit recreational destinations such as shopping malls or cafes around the city. Students living outside the campus, travel regularly to their university to attend their lectures (expert in the field of human geography (recent focus on urbanisation, digitisation and mobilities), interviewed in Innsbruck on 17th February 2021; expert in the field of Urban Transport Planning, interviewed in Bangkok on 24th February 2021). The assessment of the experts aligns well with the answers given by the students in the quantitative survey (see figure 6.7): Recreational purposes such as “leisure activities” or “visit friends or family” account for more than one third of their trips. The commute to the university is with more than 17 % another important motive for travelling (see figure 6.7). One aspect, that was not brought up directly in the expert interviews, however, are the trips the students make when commuting to part time jobs. According to our survey these trips account for a good 11% percent of the trips done by students in Bangkok (see figure 6.7).

→ text: Stefanie Decker, Elisa Kuntner, David Reisenauer

Figure 6.7: Reasons for Travelling in Bangkok (Source: quantitative survey with students in Bangkok, n = 35, please consider the limitations to this study in the methodology section)

Distances Travelled

Detailed information on the distances traveled by the students in Bangkok could only be obtained through the quantitative survey (expert in the field of human geography (recent focus on urbanisation, digitisation and mobilities), interviewed in Innsbruck on 17th February 2021; expert in the field of Urban Transport Planning, interviewed in Bangkok on 24th February 2021). The results of the survey show, that in Bangkok, most students travel up to 5 km daily on weekdays. Those who do not live on campus and thus have a further distance to cover daily travel on average not more than 35 km (see figure 6.8). These results fit the information gathered on the students starting points and destinations: Since most of the students’ needs can be satisfied close by the university, where most of the students live, most of them don’t have to travel far on an average weekday.

Figure 6.8: Average Distance Travelled by Students in Bangkok on a weekday (Source: quantitative survey with students in Bangkok, n = 18, please consider the limitations to this study in the methodology section)

Analysis of the students’ modal split

Kuala Lumpur

The expert interviews indicate that the students in Kuala Lumpur use a broad variety of modes of transportation. Most trips are done, according to the experts, by motorized private transport, whereas public transportation and active transport are used more scarcely (expert in the field of Urban and Transport Planning, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 18th February 2021; expert in the field of Urban and Transport Planning, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 17th February 2021; expert in the field of Urban and Regional Planning, written interview in Kuala Lumpur in February 2021; expert in the field of Traffic and Transportation, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 8th February 2021). These broad ideas on the student modal split in Kuala Lumpur are well represented by the results of our questionnaire: Almost 90 percent of the participants surveyed in Kuala Lumpur report using their car “very often” or “often” (see figure 6.9). Public transportation such as trains, the metro or busses are also used by almost all the participants, though not with the same frequency as cars (see figure 6.9). Within the active transport there are big discrepancies in usage. While all the participants walk with various frequencies only around one quarter of the participants use bicycles with any frequency (see figure 6.9).

The great importance of the car is likely due to, among other reason, low prices for fuel and parking as well as the generally very positive attitude in Malaysia towards this mode of transport (expert in the field of Traffic and Transportation, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 8th February 2021). Owning and driving a car is considered part of the Malaysian way of life (expert in the field of Traffic and Transportation, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 8th February 2021). The nonetheless high importance of public and active transport for the students is presumably a result of the well-developed public transport network and the generally progressive attitude of students in Kuala Lumpur towards sustainable mobility (expert in the field of Traffic and Transportation, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 8th February 2021). An exception to this is the bicycle transport. As explained above, students in Kuala Lumpur use bicycles only scarcely. This is possibly due to the hot climate in the city, and the poorly developed bicycle infrastructure (expert in the field of Urban and Transport Planning, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 17th February 2021).

→ text: Stefanie Decker, Elisa Kuntner, David Reisenauer6.

Figure 6.9: Students’ mode choice in Kuala Lumpur (Source: quantitative survey with students in Kuala Lumpur, n = 9, please consider the limitations to this study in the methodology section)

Figure 6.10: Modal Split Klang Valley (Source: own illustration according to Chiu Chen et al., 2014, p. 10)

Figure 10 shows the modal split in the Klang Valley, which includes the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur in 2013 as calculated based on secondary literature and official statistics (Chiu Chen et al. 2014). The comparison of this data with the information gathered in our research shows that students in Kuala Lumpur use private cars less often than the general population in the Kuala Lumpur area. Unfortunately, the figure by Chiu Chen et al. does not include information on the use of active transportation, which means no comparison with regard to this form of transportation can be made. The Kuala Lumpur students’ lower reliance on cars compared to the general population in the Klang Valley might again be explained in part by the previously mentioned progressive attitudes of students and the well-developed public transportation network in the city. It is here assumed that the Klang Valley consist at least in part of rural environments with only a small public transportation network.

Bangkok

The expert interviews show that the students in Bangkok use a broad variety of modes of transportation. According to the experts most trips are done by motorized private transport, whereas public transportation and active transport are used more scarcely. However, the exact shares of the different modes of transport cannot be read with certainty from the interviews (expert in the field of human geography (recent focus on urbanisation, digitisation and mobilities), interviewed in Innsbruck on 17th February 2021; expert in the field of Urban Transport Planning, interviewed in Bangkok on 24th February 2021). A more detailed view is provided by the results of the quantitative survey. These results show that about 80 percent of students claim to walk “very often” or “often”. The car is used “very often” or “often” by 50 percent. The mode of transportation “motorcycle” is used “often” or “very often” by around 35 percent of the participants surveyed. It is noticeable that the bicycle is only used “often” by about 7 percent (see figure 6.11). The importance of the foot-transport is likely due to the small distance between the students’ places of stay and their most important destinations (see chapter Student Destinations and Purposes). Beyond this, due to the limited amount of data we were able to gather, no reliable assumptions about the reasons behind the students’ mode choices can be made.

→ text: Stefanie Decker, Elisa Kuntner, David Reisenauer

Figure 6.11: Students’ mode choice in Bangkok (Source: quantitative survey with students in Bangkok, n = 35, please consider the limitations to this study in the methodology section)

Figure 6.12: Modal Split Bangkok (Source: own illustration according to Bangkok, Thailand – Bangkok BRT, 2021)

Figure 6.12 shows the modal split in Bangkok in 2018 according to to the Global BRT Data (Bangkok, Thailand – Bangkok BRT, 2021). The general population in Bangkok uses private cars far more than the students. Public transportation and active transport however are used less. This is likely due to the students unique living conditions. Since they reside close by their usual destinations, they do not rely on using cars as much as the general public.

→ text: Stefanie Decker, Elisa Kuntner, David Reisenauer

Analysis of the technological navigation tools used by students

Kuala Lumpur

The expert interviewees suggest that students in Kuala Lumpur use applications like Google Maps, Touch and Go, and Waze for navigation. Moreover, they find that there is a particularly strong interest in e-hailing services like Grab and Uber. The navigation apps are used to avoid traffic jams and find the best and fastest routes, but often they are inaccurate in terms of time, which is due to the major problem of traffic congestion. Several interviewees mention that the apps are not sufficiently integrated with the bus or train system. In addition, the use of technological navigation tools and apps is affected by the fact that the many different providers have different apps, which makes planning difficult (experts in the field of Urban Planning and Transport Planning, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 17th and 18th February 2021; expert in the field of Urban and Regional Planning, written interview in Kuala Lumpur in February 2021; expert in the field of Traffic and Transportation, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 8th February 2021). From the students’ point of view, the apps were rated differently in comparison to the expert interviews. For example, the app Touch and Go was not named from the students, but they mentioned the apps Moovit and Arah Kiblat. Figure 6.13 shows the rating of the different applications in the quantitative survey.

Even the evaluation of the apps of the surveyed students compared to the apps from the literature differ. Several apps appear in the mobile app ranking that the students did not name (Similarweb 2021a, 2021b). This may be due to students using different apps than the overall population. However, our sample is too small to assess this.

→ text: Stefanie Decker, Elisa Kuntner, David Reisenauer

Figure 6.13: Technological tools used in Kuala Lumpur (Source: quantitative survey with students in Kuala Lumpur, n = 9, please consider the limitations to this study in the methodology section)

Bangkok

Regarding the navigation tools in Bangkok, one interviewee mentions the ViaBus application as a much used one in Bangkok. There, the user can select the bus or route and see where the buses are located to see if there was long waiting times (expert in the field of Urban Transport Planning, interviewed in Bangkok on 24th February 2021). In Bangkok e-hailing services such as Grab are very common (expert in the field of human geography (recent focus on urbanisation, digitisation and mobilities) interviewed in Innsbruck on 17th February 2021; expert in the field of Urban Transport Planning, interviewed in Bangkok on 24th February 2021). In the quantitative survey, the same tools were named as in the expert interviews. Only one interviewee said that tourists and internationals use Google Maps rather than locals (expert in the field of Urban Transport Planning, interviewed in Bangkok on 24th February 2021), but the survey reveals that most of students use Google Maps and rated it as “very useful” (see figure 6.14). Other tools that students use are Grab, ViaBus and Line Man Rider.

The apps are really a great help for some of the transportation modes, but not for all of them. For some it doesn’t really make sense or it’s too kind of improvised or too kind of flexible.

Expert in the field of urban geography

interviewed in Innsbruck on 17th February 2021

In the interviews was named the problem that Google Maps is not very accurate with timetables because of the congestion issue. Furthermore, in Bangkok are a lot of different transportation providers, which makes it difficult to combine the information of the transportation system into one app. Thus, the apps are very helpful for some modes of transportation, but not for all (expert in the field of Urban Transport Planning, interviewed in Bangkok on 24th February 2021).

The results of our survey differ greatly from the most frequently used navigation apps in Thailand according to the Mobile App Ranking (Similarweb 2021c, 20212d). Only few of these apps are mentioned by our respondents in the questionnaire. The cause may be that students use different apps than the overall population, but to be able to evaluate this more deeply, a larger sample is needed.

→ text: Stefanie Decker, Elisa Kuntner, David Reisenauer

 

Figure 6.14: Technological tools used in Bangkok (Source: quantitative survey with students in Bangkok, n = 35, please consider the limitations to this study in the methodology section)

Identification of the mobility options students dream of

Kuala Lumpur

According to the interviewees, students desire more connected services and a “seamless, cheaper, better quality and integrated system” (expert in the field of Urban and Regional Planning, written interview in Kuala Lumpur in February 2021, pos. 14). They request more comfortable buses, and some students, who are sensitive towards green environment demanded the use of a more environmentally friendly fuel.

Regarding the congestion issue in the city, students are demanding an increasement of the bus-supply especially in the rush hour to avoid delays for classes, and in addition, they are dreaming of an increased service on weekends (expert in the field of Urban Planning and Transport Planning, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 17th February 2021; expert in the field of Traffic and Transportation, interviewed in Kuala Lumpur on 8th February 2021). In the quantitative survey from the students’ point of view, similar aspects such as the “improvement and expansion of public transport”, like more bus stops and punctuality, as well as “more pedestrians walkways and bicycle lanes” and a more sustainable transport system were mentioned above all (see figure 6.15).

 

Figure 6.15: Desires of surveyed students in Kuala Lumpur regarding the transportation system (Source: quantitative survey with students in Kuala Lumpur, n = 9, please consider the limitations to this study in the methodology section)

Because the traffic congestion is a very nightmare. You can imagine that to live to spend four hours today with the hectic of the homework and group working is really horrible for the kids/for the student.

Expert in the field of Urban Transport Planning

interviewed in Bangkok on 24th February 2021

Bangkok

According to the experts the students in Bangkok desire a higher quality of public transport service, as they feel that there is a mismatch in the price-performance ratio. In addition, students would like to have a comfortable and safer transportation system, especially regarding prevention of harassment of women, which makes them feel uncomfortable.

Finally, the tense traffic jam situation was also mentioned as a problem, which should be addressed by the Bangkok Metropolitan authority, but at the same time people prefer their own car over the public transport system and want to keep this freedom (expert in the field of human geography (recent focus on urbanisation, digitisation and mobilities) interviewed in Innsbruck on 17th February 2021; expert in the field of Urban Transport Planning, interviewed in Bangkok on 24th February 2021). In the quantitative survey, similar aspects such as the “improvement and expansion of public transport”, like more bus stops in city and especially in the suburbs, a “better connection between the different modes of transport”, “more and better foot and bike lines”, like better walkability and sun canopies and “less traffic congestions” were mentioned above all. Furthermore, the students demand a more sustainable transport system (see figure 6.16).

→ text: Stefanie Decker, Elisa Kuntner, David Reisenauer

Figure 6.16: Desires of surveyed students in Bangkok regarding the transportation system (Source: quantitative survey with students in Bangkok, n = 35, please consider the limitations to this study in the methodology section)

SWOT diagram

The SWOT diagram shows some common results for both cities, as well as some individual challenges each city must deal with: According to our experts, in both cities sufficient public transport services are already provided. Nevertheless, a majority prefers individual vehicles, mostly cars. Therefore, traffic congestion is a huge problem. It causes air pollution and thus environmental harm and serious health problems for the residents. Moreover, the people’s attitudes towards change in the traffic system is a problem. In both cities, there are old guards in power, who do not show enough interest in a change towards more usage of public transport modes and less private car promotion.

In Bangkok, the canals are an important aspect in public traffic planning. Due to historical planning, the city is built around these canals. This is a weakness on the one hand, because the traffic system cannot be changed unrestricted. On the other hand, the canals could be used to decrease the risk of traffic congestion.

In Kuala Lumpur, transportation planning is not stringently designed to promote sustainable modes of transportation such as cycling or car sharing. Cars, as well as fuel and parking spots are disproportionately cheap. Most land use developments happen outside of the public transport corridor. Therefore, there are many people living far away from the next public transport station.

Experts of both cities state an opportunity in a combination of competing operators in just one company, or provide better connection between different public transport stations, as there are currently many operators within each mode of transport. Moreover, improved education in health and environment related topics could lead to more awareness and therefore an increased willingness to use public transport modes.

→ text: Theresa Gorbach

Figure 6.17: SWOT Diagram: Strengths and Weaknesses (Source: own qualitative data from expert interviews in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, please consider the limitations to this study in the methodology section)

Figure 6.18: SWOT Diagram: Opportunities and Threats (Source: own qualitative data from expert interviews in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, please consider the limitations to this study in the methodology section)  

 Ideas for Improvement

Based on the SWOT-analysis and the evaluation of the mobility options the students dream of ideas for the further improvement of the students’ traffic situation in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur were developed:

1.       Create access for public transportation on campus and build new bus-stops on campus.

2.       Improve the schedules of the campus busses (if these exist, otherwise create some). Include the following information:

  • When does the next bus arrive?
  • Where can I go by taking the busses?
  • How long will the ride take?
  • What other trains or busses can I catch by taking the bus?
  • Better apps to track the busses for information.

3.       Increase costs on parking on campus. Introduce an annual or monthly fee. Encourage students to use public transportation or active transport more.

4.       Reschedule courses away from known rush hours.

5.       Standardization and simplification of the ticketing system for the different transport systems so that the different modes of transport are better linked and so that more people use public transport.

6.       Improve the situation for pedestrians and cyclists so that more people use climate-friendly modes of transport. After all, many students value a sustainable transport system or would like to have one.

    7.       Expansion of the public transportation system outside the campus as well.

    Now that we have presented our results and addressed the proposed improvements, the following section critically examines them.

    → text: Stefanie Decker

    Discussion
    As originally planned, the expert interviews would have been used to get an overview of the traffic situation in the regarding cities and the questionnaires would have provided data about the mobility practices of the University students. Unfortunately, methodological problems arose for the expert interviews as well as the quantitative survey. Due to the remote character of the research the number of experts we were able to reach was limited to six for both Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok combined. Thus, the possibilities to make overall evaluations and generalizations are restricted. In our quantitative survey only few students participated. Therefore, the quantitative data is very limited too, as it shows the opinions of only 9 participants in Kuala Lumpur and the 35 participants in Bangkok. This means that the data does not represent a larger student population in both cities.

    Keeping the above-named limitations in mind, the data was interpreted as following: Our respondents were strongly “car-dependent” according to their own statements and the ones of the experts. Congestion was mentioned as a serious problem of both cities, caused by the high use of motorized private transport. The participants of our study seem to prefer car over public transport because the public transport network has some disadvantages like comfort, price-performance, safety, and time. Therefore, participants in both cities would like to see an expansion and an improvement of the public transport system. In addition, the use of active transport is at least partially limited by the hot climate and a lack of infrastructure. Both cities are designed primarily for cars, which makes it difficult and time-consuming for pedestrians and cyclists to move around the city. Therefore, the respondents demand better walkability, and an improvement of the foot and bicycle lines. Beside the desire of an improvement of the infrastructure, the students moreover demand a more sustainable transport system.

    In both cities, the main services used by our respondents are Google Maps and Grab. Both of them were rated as useful, even if the accuracy of real time tracking is limited by traffic congestion. Otherwise, there are other useful apps from different providers in both cities, such as ViaBus or Moovit, which are used by the University students. The students in both cities wish for a better integration of the various modes of transportations in applications. This should be done in one comprehensive app. Additionally, unified ticked would increase the use of the public transportation, because especially in Bangkok complicated ticket systems were named as obstructive for more intense usage.

    According to the respondents a large proportion of students live on or near the campus, presumably to have shorter ways and to avoid congestion. In addition, there are a lot of services offered to students on campus and in the campus vicinity, such as shopping malls, etc., so participants do not have to travel long distances. As a result, students take a subordinated role in transport planning according to the experts.

    In conclusion, our research provides some interesting insights into the transportation system and mobility practice of the students in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, the results are not representative and have to be seen in the particular situation of remote research in times of worldwide travel restrictions. Further research with a larger sample has to be conducted to deepen and verify the results.

    → text: Stefanie Decker, Theresa Gorbach, Elisa Kuntner, Chiara Neises and David Reisenauer

    References

    Chiu Chuen O., Mohamed R. K., Sumiani Y. (2014): Mode choice between private and public transport in Klang Valley, Malaysia. In: ScientificWorldJournal, n. I, n. V.

    Kuala Lumpur: Federal Dept. of Town and Country Planning and Malaysian Institute of Planners, 1992, pp.590-608. ISBN 983-99975-0-5.

    Ministry of Transport Thailand (Eds.) 2020: Transport Statistics 2018, Bangkok.

    Mohamad J. (1992): Realities of Modal Choice in Kuala Lumpur: Transport Planning for the Disadvantaged. In: K. M. Ho. et al. (Eds.): Planning Towards a Caring Society.

    Similarweb (2021a): Mobile App Ranking. Top App Store apps in Malaysia. https://www.similarweb.com/apps/top/apple/store-rank/my/navigation/top-free/iphone/ (Last retrieved on: 15.05.2021).

    Similarweb (2021b): Mobile App Ranking. Top Google Play apps in Malaysia. https://www.similarweb.com/apps/top/google/store-rank/my/maps-and-navigation/top-free/ (Last retrieved on: 15.05.2021).

    Similarweb (2021c): Mobile App Ranking. App Store apps in Thailand. https://www.similarweb.com/apps/top/apple/store-rank/th/navigation/top-free/iphone/ (Last retrieved on: 15.05.2021).

    Similarweb (2021d): Mobile App Ranking. Top Google Play apps in Thailand. https://www.similarweb.com/apps/top/google/app-index/th/maps-and-navigation/top-free/ (Last retrieved on: 15.05.2021).

    Chapter 7:

    Covid-19

    Urban Disruptions in Times of COVID-19

    From early 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has joined the ranks of globally effective crises. Within a few months, the new corona virus had spread globally and its impact on world society continues to be severe. Although great efforts have been made to contain the virus and to develop a vaccine, economic and social consequences will last for a long time.

    Given its regional proximity to and economic and social integration with China, Southeast Asia was affected first after the initial outbreak. However, the national governments of Thailand and Malaysia responded differently to the quickly evolving circumstances, which has finally led to a highly diverse development in case numbers and temporal phases of lockdowns. Comparing these institutional responses, one can notice major differences in administrative measures directly affecting people’s daily life. The effect on socially disadvantaged people is clearly stronger. Siu (2020) states that the “Covid-19 outbreak manifests the correlation between health inequality and social inequality” and shows that people with “low socioeconomic status were more disadvantaged in health and in the attainment of social resources such as employment, education […] and right to use public facilities” (Siu, 2020, p. 1).

    Our main objective thus was to understand the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in the cities of Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. So, we as a student group based in Innsbruck, Austria, having already experienced major restrictions in our studies due to the Covid-19 restrictions and not least even having to cancel our field trip to these two cities, wondered: how are students doing on site? How does the pandemic and measures enacted by the Malay and Thai government to fight the pandemic affect their daily life in these two super dense mega cities? How does this pandemic influence the way they perceive and encounter their urban environment? And does this crisis finally lead to a reassessment of their personal needs regarding the city and urban space?

    What we were able to find out even before our empirical data collection started was that in both cities, students mostly belong to the wealthy part of the population (Zainal et al., 2009). Nevertheless, their lives have also been affected similarly to our lives and studies here in Austria, Europe. Institutions of higher education were closed when the pandemic started, and students were forced to stay at home and to limit social contacts. So, how did they cope with the pandemic itself and related restrictions? First research results reveal that “public health emergencies, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, affect one’s psychological state in the short-term and mental health in the long-term” (Liang et al., 2020, in Kamaludin et al., 2020, p. 1). Surveys on how university students in Malaysia react to the outbreak of Covid-19 point out that this group presents significant signs of stress due to “disruptions to face-to-face learning and transition to online distance education” (Abdullah et al., 2020, in Kamaludin et al., 2020, p. 1). These findings reveal a psychological understanding of how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected daily life of students. But with our research project, we aimed to look at this topic from a geographical perspective. Based on the theoretical approaches of resilience and space-place relations we applied a multi-method approach. Using qualitative methods and offering written narratives and photo stories as well as doing interviews and focus group discussions with students on site via the video communication platform Zoom we tried to enable participants to engage with their role as experts remotely.

    So, come with us to explore how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected daily life of students in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur and what implications this might have for future urban planning!

    → text: Carlotta Schlosser

     

    References

    Kamaludin, K., Chinna, K., Sundarasen, S., Khoshaim, H., Nurunnabi, M., Baloch, G. M., Sukayt, A., & Hossain, S. F. A. (2020). Coping with COVID-19 and movement control order (MCO): Experiences of university students in Malaysia. Heliyon, 6(11), e05339. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e05339.

    Siu, J. Y. (2020). Health inequality experienced by the socially disadvantaged populations during the outbreak of COVID-19 in Hong Kong: An interaction with social inequality. Health & Social Care in the Community. https://doi.org/10.1111/hsc.13214.

    Zainal, N. R., Kamaruddin, R., & Nathan, S. B. S. (2009). Socio-Economic Status and Parental Savings for Higher Education among Malaysian Bumiputera Families. International Journal of Economics and Finance1(2), 170-173.

     

    What is the difference between multi-methods approaches and mixed-methods approaches?

    Multi-method approaches follow a research design that combines a variation of qualitative research methods to understand a complex topic from different perspectives.

    Mixed-methods appraoches in contrast combine both qualitative as well as quantitative methods to explore and understand a complex research topic.

    BKK airport before the pandemic

    photo: majaX1 under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    BKK airport during the pandemic

    photo: by S. A. Peth

    Inside a public bus before the pandemic

    photo: S.A. Peth

    Inside a public bus during the pandemic

    photo: by S. A. Peth

    In Bangkok's sky train (BTS) before the pandemic

    photo: npbn  under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    In Bangkok's sky train (BTS) during the pandemic

    photo: by S. A. Peth

    One of Bangkok's food courts before the pandemic

    photo: andreakw under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    One of Bangkok's food courts during the pandemic

    photo: by S. A. Peth

    1st research question: Changes in the daily life of students in KL and BK due to Covid19

    Analyzing the impact of Covid-19 on city life in the two mega cities of Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, we raised the question how student’s life was affected by governmental restrictions to fight the pandemic and how they experienced these changes.   

    In the initial phase of the pandemic, in early 2020, different measures were taken in Thailand and Malaysia. While in Malaysia the so-called Movement Control Order (MCO) started at the 18th March 2020, the Thai government announced a partial lockdown on March 26th 2020. During the following months restrictions changed, depending on the numbers of infections. In both countries, general sanitation measures like wearing a mask and keeping distance in public places, hand disinfection and temperature measurements were announced. Additionally, restaurants and shops were closed temporarily. The entertainment sector had been shut down completely and social contacts had to be reduced tremendously. Even academic institutions like schools or universities were closed. Classes had to be held online.

    These restrictions affected the students in their daily life. Khamna* one of our interviewees says that depending on the different lifestyles of the students before Covid-19 there are differences in how they are affected by the pandemic (see quote in the sidebar).

    First of all, the pandemic has an impact on their health. Some told us they gained weight, because they ate more and worked out less since the outbreak of Covid-19, such as Viola (BK) “When I’m stressed, I ate a lot of sweet. I used food delivery service. I gain my weight by 5 kgs that make me more stressed.

    Also, mental health issues  were mentioned. While a number of students feel safe in the city, others are afraid of using public transport or going outside, especially to crowded places. The emotions vary from feeling worried and stressed out to feeling frustrated and depressed. But some of the interviewees have started to do more sports to cope with the situation and have learned how to  work on their work-life-balance. For example, Phila (KL) writes: “I created space for workout sessions and yoga as a coping mechanism to help tackle the overwhelming emotions I experienced.Thus, positive side-effects of the pandemic can be recognized as well.

    The most significant change is visible in their social life. They reminisced about hanging out with their friends at shopping malls, eating together and enjoying time with each other. Like Niran from Bangkok states: “Yes, many activity has been cancelled. But before Covid-19 everything is fine to – to do the activity to gather people or being in a crowded place, or maybe concerts, yes and it affects in the sports too.”  Most of the students try to stay in touch with their friends via social media. But all of them miss the physical contact, also with their lecturers and colleagues at the university, like Phineas from Kuala Lumpur mentions: “I was really hoping to meet up with friends, make new ones, get to know professors personally.

    In most cases since the outbreak of the pandemic, studying has been only possible via online classes. Group work became more complicated and difficult. Screen time has strongly increased, like a student from the Focus Group Discussion in Bangkok says: “[…] in my first year I have no activity. I just start study online. I just wake up and turn on the computer and watch the screen. And just study, study, study […]”. The reduced exchange with other students or lecturers, closed University’s or labs limited research work.

    Furthermore, the students were affected in their daily eating habits. They were not allowed to eat in restaurants anymore. Food delivery and takeaway were the only options. During the strict measurements of the government, some interviewees felt quite restricted in their freedom of taking a walk or doing sports. On the campus, even shops were closed and food delivery was prohibited.

    Moreover, the financial aspect is also worth mentioning. A lecturer from a university in Malaysia informed us about the tremendous increase of rental costs due to Covid-19.  Some of the students lost their jobs, others moved back home.

    In the end, most of the students just long for going back to normal. They want to meet people again, attend university physically, explore city life and get vaccinated. In addition, we have also raised questions about the perception of the environment and city planning, which you can find below.

    → text: Julia Baumgartner and Lisa Mödlhamme

     

    … when Covid came, everyone, everybody have a different lifestyle. So for me who have to work so I don’t have much time […] is different, depending on the people situation if like. If the father, if the guardian can support them, they can spend their free time on anything. But if you have to work for it, you don’t have any free time, yeah? 

    Khamna*

    Student from Bangkok

    * note that we have changed all names to protect the privacy of our research participants

    So I [am] scared of the Corona virus, yeah. I have to – I have to do everything online. And I have to stay home. And now I live alone. So it’s kind of like no friends, no one to talk. It kind of affect mental health, just a little bit like that.

    Wanida

    Student from Bangkok

    …[it] really influenced my life, I’m afraid to go outside on the other hand I also wanted to keep my social life.

    Nisha

    Student from Bangkok

    Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok (source: BunBn under CC BY-SA 4.0)

    2nd research question:  
    How do students perceive and encounter their environment?

    Analyzing the impact of Covid-19 on city life in the two mega cities of Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, we raised the question: How did students perceive and encounter their environment before and since the start of the pandemic?

    After the outbreak of Covid-19 in Thailand, different restrictions were put in place to strike this new situation. Thereby our participants perceived and released a significant change in their daily life. The following quote from Khamna, a student who started to study during the pandemic, shows a strong contrast between wishes and hopes of the past and the afterwards experienced student life.  

    And when I – I found myself like – I got to be this student of this University I dreamed about to be in the University, spend time with new friends, with new environments to see more lectures, more teachers, and spend the university life. And – so everything is contrast, because everything is online.

    Khamna

    Student from Bangkok

    Having experienced student life before the start of the pandemic, Juna a German studies student at the Chulalongkorn University draws a different story. First, she talks about her studies within her German Literature Class, where a foreign lecturer came to the university. The second picture shows her most liked or most important place in Bangkok, at which she had spent a lot of time. 

    The first place I spend a lot of time before the pandemic is my University, Chulalongkorn University. My University is a big university located directly in the city center of Bangkok. It is important to me because I need to visit lectures and courses at the university to get my master degree and also I need to visit the university library to do my master research. In the picture you can see me with my fellow students with Herr Ewert in German Literature Class. He is a special lecturer from LMU Munich. Before the pandemic special lecturer can come to our university which is not possible anymore during the pandemic. (Juna (BK))

    The second place I spend my time before the pandemic is Siam Square. It is the hub of meeting point for people located in the middle of Bangkok. Many restaurants, shopping centers and everything is right at Siam Square. Moreover is just next to my old high school and my university. So I always go to Siam Square to meet my friend and hang out, have some meals or go shopping together. It is important to me because it’s actually the place I most spend time at after university and you can really find anything at Siam Square.(Juna (BK))

     

    Both pictures were taken before the Covid-19 Pandemic without restrictions in place.  Back then it was not only possible to meet friends, to go shopping or to restaurants, but also to attend university courses at the campus. Before the pandemic it was also a daily routine to use public transportation to commute to the university. Below, Juna is giving some insights into her commuting routines. 

    Bus line 141 in Bangkok (source: Ian Fuller under CC BY-NC 2.0)

    “Bus number 141 from my house to my university. It’s an air conditioned bus traveling also via express way to get me across the river to my university. It is important to me because it’s the easiest mean for me to travel from my home to university. I really spend a lot of time on this bus because of the traffic. The more you get closer to the city center, the worse is the traffic. So I would read a book or listen to music while travelling. Some would say I should take a bus and transit to BTS Sky Train to University so that might be a bit faster. But I don’t like to transit and BTS is a lot more expensive. So I prefer bus 141 which goes directly with only 21 Baht to my university.” (Juna (BK)

    While daily commuting to university and meeting friends was part of everyday life before the pandemic, it was the exception during periods of increased restrictions. Due to the closure of universities and the shift of teaching to the digital space, participants spent more time alone, at their family’s place, or sometimes even moved back to their families to save money. Khamna an engineering student from Bangkok for example states: “Like for one month I didn’t speak with my friends at all, like something like that, or my parents too because I have to study and (…) I have to work for my family business too”. Faziah (KL), a PhD student and mother of three children, shed light on the situation about having kinds while studying:  

    We were not allowed to cross the inter district. Yeah, so that was pretty rough on the kids. Also, on my sanity as well, coz they’re like you know, screaming in the house.

    Faziah

    Student and mother from Kuala Lumpur

    Having therefore experienced the pandemic not only while living directly inside the city, but also in the periphery, participants perceived the everyday life of the latter as safer and less restricted. Faizah (KL) raises the objection to live on the countryside: 

    On the weekends I will take my family to my hometown (…) there my father built the house and then he made ponds. He made a little pool. There are tiny gardens around. So, I would take my kids there, you know, just to have fun with their grandparents. And I think that helped them a lot to be, you know, just to feel normal for a bit.  

    Faziah

    Student and mother from Kuala Lumpur

    These severe changes in everyday life had an impact on physical and mental health for some participants and a significant influence in how participants were moving through the city. Sebastian , a former PhD student from Bangkok, describes a change in his daily transportation routine:  

    […] I decided I will not take a taxi anymore because everybody would use the same door handle. […] So, yeah, that was the first moment I realized where I’m changing something in my daily routine.

    Sebastian

    International PhD student in Bangkok

    Overall, during Covid-19 visiting busy public places and facilities, spending time in malls, or using public transport became limited. It has been heavily associated with a potential Covid-19 infection. Natrada (BK), a master student in public health, states: “How do I feel? I feel worried, especially when there is someone who cough or sneezing near me”.  

    Besides the impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic, participants agreed on future town planning aspects and wishes for the future. Frequently mentioned keywords were: Crowded public places and public transportation services, an everlasting rush hour leading to time-consuming commuting, frequent periods of very problematic air quality. Sebastian comments: 

    Bangkok has a serious challenge with regard to air pollution and the PM 2.5 is a huge problem.

    Sebastian

    International PhD student in Bangkok

    Faizah elaborates Kuala Lumpur as following:  

    No, I would not want to live in Kuala Lumpur, because, even before the pandemic, it was super crowded, due to bad town planning.   

    Faziah

    Student and mother from Kuala Lumpur

    In the end it can be noticed that participants are very much aware of the effect of Covid-19 related restrictions to their personal space and daily life. The interaction with the digital space became more important and imminent, leading in many cases to self-isolation and a reduction of non-digital gatherings. At the same time a retreat to the outskirts of cities or the home of family members can be observed. For many participants they seemed to be less crowded and therefore a safer place in pandemic times.

    → text: Johannes Melchert and Jan Misera

     

    3rd research question: Reassessment of personal needs 

    As illustrated above, the way students experience the urban space they live in has changed tremendously since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. This altered sense of place directly affects their interaction in public space, emphasizing how much the pandemic impacts the specific relation between space and place for young adults such as our interviewees. In light of these changed conditions, we – honestly – expected this shift to become a fundamental disruption of the way young people such as our interviewed students imagine future city life to be. We therefore finally raised the question: How does this crisis lead to a reassessment of their personal needs regarding the city and urban spaces?

    Interestingly, this truly new spatial experience they describe to us, their thoughts, feelings, and remarks regarding city life under Covid-19 – none of it points out explicitly to the need of a fundamental reassessment of city planning. But we do not want to state that the disruptions and changes our participants experienced may not lead or have led to a reflection about personal needs regarding urban space. Especially since our data corpus mainly consists of spoken or written words by people (participants and researchers) whose mother tongue is not English and since our question for reassessment of personal needs is complex, we do not want to over-interpret out data. Nevertheless, several participants expressed demands for changes in city planning and development that already existed before the pandemic. And our impression is that the current crisis reinforced and intensified awareness regarding those demands. These demands shall be presented in the following, clustered in two categories:

    1. Improving public services

    The lack of basic urban infrastructure came back strongly to the attention of many inhabitants of Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur when the Covid-19 pandemic hit their cities. Especially the importance of a functioning health care system was stressed by Kyro, an engineering student from Bangkok: “More hygiene at public transportation and seminar […]. Hospital should provide […] faster examination and no queuing anymore.” For sure, it is the Covid-19 pandemic which recently reminds us that health services are a crucial component of public services. But a functioning health system is needed constantly, not only in times of a pandemic.

    Moreover, public transportation services need to be further expanded. Sebastian, a former PhD Geography student, gave us insight in how much the Bangkokian city planning for instance already invested in this sector: “When I arrived the first time in Bangkok, it was in 2014, there were only two BTS lines. And now […] I don’t know how many there are. So, there was the green and the dark green [BTS line]. […] Now, there’s the yellow one, the purple one, the golden one just opened last – I think in December.” But still these efforts are not enough to handle the masses of people moving through the city properly. It is also Sebastian who tells us how it usually looks like when he takes the bus in rush hour times: “[Y]ou can stand here in the middle and you don’t need to hold the strap or the rails, because you [are] kind of squeezed there and [it is] packed, full of people and you cannot fall down anyway.” Given this uncomfortable situation of overcrowded public transport systems, the Covid-19 pandemic led to a certain fear of people to use them at all; to quote an expert on mobility, Dr. Gobi Krishna, whom we asked about the situation in Kuala Lumpur: “Rail transport in Kuala Lumpur: they used to receive 1.3 to 1.5 million passengers […] per month. During the MCO [Movement Control Order] they […] receive […] less than 200,000.” But which kind of alternatives people do have except public transportation? Using cars or motor scooters merely shifts the problem to environmental pressures. One possible solution offered by the theoretical concept of the “compact city” (Jenks & Jones, 2010) suggests decentralizing public functions and services. The larger the city, the farther away urban facilities can be. But an efficient urban land use aiming to optimize access to basic public functions and services for city residents such as recreation or shopping in walkable distance not only reduces high densities and urban sprawl, but also benefits the environment and wellbeing of citizens. Sustainable forms of transportation would become more attractive and social as well as cultural vitality would be enhanced through an enhanced accessibility (Jenks & Jones, 2010, p. 2). This approach would also fit the expectations of our interviewees: “It should not only be shopping, it can be also health, recreation, parks…“, adds Sebastian when asked for possible improvements in city management. This leads us to the second strong demand our participants expressed in regard to future city development.

    1. Increasing amount and better allocating public spaces

    Decentralization must be understood not only in terms of services and functions a city offers its residents. It also concerns public spaces. Our interviewees expressed different reasons for more and better allocated public spaces. Faizah, PhD student in Kuala Lumpur and mother of three children, states: “I would like my city to be safe, children friendly or family friendly.” In this context she explains her motives for this demand: every time she wants to spend time with her children in a park, she needs to use a car to go there as parks are either not in close distance or as there are no proper sidewalks for pedestrians. “It’s not walking friendly […]”, she criticizes, “so, it’s more convenient to drive your car and park. But then again, parking is also limited. […] [or] I would just call a cab or grab car. […] but then you have to pay. I think it’s quite pricy […] Um, but then that’s the best option”. Although Faizah has access to a car and the financial resources to pay a grab-taxi she would still prefer to have parks in the city which are in walking distance. Additionally, for people who cannot pay a grab-taxi or do not own a car access to green spaces is difficult. Thus, it is not only about the amount of public spaces but also about their allocation and, finally, their accessibility.

    Another conceivable approach to solve this problem is proposed by the “15-minute city concept” which calls for fostering decentralization in a specific way: the concept addresses the shift from a car-based form of transportation in cities towards walking and biking as primary mode of transportation. According to this concept, if public spaces and services were distributed in a way that they are reachable within 15 minutes by foot or by bike, several positive implications could emerge like the improvement of health and well-being or the increase of socioeconomical equity (Luscher, 2020).

    What can we learn from the Covid-19 crisis, then?  

    In a certain way, the abrupt and disruptive shock of the Covid-19 pandemic reminds us globally why resilient urban planning is important. Even before the outbreak of the current pandemic, several scholars (e. g., Ahern (2011); Reed et al. (2013); Syphard et al. (2013)) emphasized the need for urban planning enhancing resilience and to move towards adaptive planning and social learning strategies, for instance, to better respond to pandemics. And when analysing the impact of Covid-19 this need is underlined once again clearly.  

    Over the last year, many governments in Southeast Asia intended to meet the needs of urban inhabitants and improve urban governance (Sheng, 2010). To achieve this, they changed their practices of governance towards decentralization through privatization. This shift occurred, among other things, because of a growing economy and growing as well as more diverse demands of the urban population. Although it aimed at improving urban governance, it did not achieve that (Sheng, 2010). According to Sheng, only a substantial elite benefits from current privatization processes aiming to decentralize functions and services. Nowadays, urban development decisions are taken by public-private partnerships, with an emphasis on profitability and urban entrepreneurialism (Sheng, 2010). A resilient urban planning approach instead gives city inhabitants a central role in planning practice. Schappenlehner-Kloyber and Penker (2016) even argue that as many stakeholders as possible should participate in the planning process as early as possible. Our field study confirmed that opinion. We interviewed students in the city of Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur and their high interest in our study work demonstrated their general willingness to share their personal ideas for city development. Faizah for example explicitly states that her interest in city planning and development was the reason why she agreed to talk to us. However, none of them participates in city planning processes of these two cities so far – or to use Faizah’s words: “[…] other people are talking about how to improve Kuala Lumpur […]”. Based on their personal sense of place before and during the pandemic, we argue that city residents want to get involved in urban planning processes and that their perspectives are worth to be taken into account when developing city planning strategies in the future. 

    → text: Carlotta Schlosser and Richard Kempert

     

    References

    Ahern, J. (2011). From fail-safe to safe-to-fail: Sustainability and resilience in the new urban world. Landscape and Urban Planning, 100(4), 341–343. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2011.02.021.  

    Jenks, M. and Jones, C., eds. (2010). Dimensions of the sustainable city 2. London: Springer. 

    Luscher, D. (2020, June 17). Introducing the 15-Minute City Project. Medium. https://luscher.medium.com/introducing-the-15-minute-city-project-b9c0562e1725 

    Massey, D. (2005). For space. SAGE Publications Ltd. 

    Mitchell, D. (1995). The End of Public Space? People’s Park, Definitions of the Public, and Democracy. 85(1), 103–133. 

    Reed, S. O., Friend, R., Toan, V. C., Thinphanga, P., Sutarto, R., & Singh, D. (2013). “Shared learning” for building urban climate resilience – experiences from Asian cities. Environment and Urbanization, 25(2), 393–412. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956247813501136

    Sheng, Y. K. (2010). Good Urban Governance in Southeast Asia. Environment and Urbanization ASIA, 1(2), 131–147. https://doi.org/10.1177/097542531000100203.

    Schauppenlehner-Kloyber, E., & Penker, M. (2016). Between participation and collective action—from occasional liaisons towards long-term co-management for urban resilience. Sustainability8(7), 664.

    Syphard, A. D., Bar Massada, A., Butsic, V., & Keeley, J. E. (2013). Land Use Planning and Wildfire: Development Policies Influence Future Probability of Housing Loss. PLoS ONE, 8(8), e71708. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0071708. 

    Chapter 8:

    Urban Futures

    Research Summary

    Studying urban spaces, processes and their transitions in South East Asia underlines the diversity, complexity, and dynamics of the region. Focusing on the two capital cities Bangkok/Thailand and Kuala Lumpur/Malaysia, our student groups studied different dimensions of city life remotely. The results represent a wide range of issues the two sample cities are characterized by and will continue to deal with in the future.

    Starting with the issue of mobility:

    Thailand’s and Malaysia’s societies are “car-dependent”. In both Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur many trips are done by motorized private transport, which leads to traffic congestion. While technological navigation tools such as “Google Maps” or “Grab” are much used and rated as helpful, participants involved in our study demand for an expansion and improvement of the public transportation system. When it comes to recreational visits in the city center – to malls, cafés, family, and friends – an improved public transportation system would increase the city experience.

    Another aspect is the topic of flooding:

    Both cities are prone to flooding and have therefore implemented flood adaption and mitigation strategies to combat this issue. In Kuala Lumpur, the SMART tunnel diverts water from flood prone areas, and in Bangkok, the improvement and maintenance of the flow and drainage for the Klongs combats urban flooding. For these structural measures to function properly, it was found that existing structural measures, as well as the improvement of structural measures inspired by nature-based solutions, need to be combined with non-structural measures to have a lasting effect. Both cities experience population growth and urban population density which leads to increased amounts of waste. A non-structural measure which combats this issue is community involvement which can help mitigate the waste problems which clogs the drains and exacerbates the flooding issue. Additionally, international, horizontal, and vertical cooperation between stakeholders can support the successful implementation and maintenance of these projects. In encouraging this integrated approach for Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, the issue of flooding can be approached in a way that has the potential to be long lasting.

    Furthermore, wellbeing is also an important issue:

    Our analysis of the two major urban planning projects at waterfronts, the “River of Life project” in Kuala Lumpur and the “Chao Phraya River Promenade” in Bangkok points out that development projects at riverfronts do have a major impact on the wellbeing of the local population.

    Unfortunately, the impact is not always positive and goes along with many fears of the people concerning the environment and housing projects. Furthermore, the realization of a big project on the riverfront can also lead the way to a significant raise in awareness and through this to a more participating and understanding population to help implement river cleaning projects and other types of projects to improve wellbeing. Comprehensive participatory action is therefore recommended to integrate the needs of individual population groups and to hereby improve the perception of such projects.

    Finally, Covid-19 must be considered:

    The national governments of Thailand and Malaysia responded differently to the pandemic, and governmental measures enacted in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur have therefore varied greatly. Comparing these institutional responses, we elaborated which huge impact administrative measures had and still have on student’s daily life. The way students experience urban space, their personal sense of place has changed lastingly. However, the pandemic itself does not lead to a fundamental reassessment of personal needs regarding urban development. Rather it emphasizes and brings to the front demands which already existed before the pandemic: demands for improving public services and increasing amount and better allocating public spaces. Based on our study experience we therefore propose to involve city residents in future city planning strategies to strengthen resilience of our two sample cities.

    What do these findings reveal about the transformation processes these two mega cities are undergoing? What can we learn from a synthesis that compares results across the two cities? And can we even find a solution to building sustainable urban futures? Keep on reading to find out more.

    Research Synthesis

    Our digital research on mobility, wellbeing, flooding and Covid-19 only exemplarily illustrates our perspective of the diversity of Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. While many urban differences but also similarities can be observed, challenges and possibilities occur when looking at urban pathways and futures. The following aspects synthesize our findings and display relevant aspects for Southeast Asian urban futures:

    • in terms of mobility ICTs fulfil many functions for the residents,
    • public transport should be improved to enrich the city experience and create more sustainable cities,
    • increased community involvement and horizontal and vertical stakeholder integration is required to deal with progressive urbanization,
    • in order to reduce the effect of local (flooding events) and global (Covid-19 pandemic) disruptions towards the daily life of people, new strategies and concepts must be established.

    Only researching urban complexities of Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok remotely as students from the Global North, the aspects displayed above may only be taken as one singular perspective refusing to claim objective truth. Additionally, it must be emphasized that synthesizing always entails abstraction and cutting out context of the respective aspects.

    Conceptional thoughts about an ideal city

    The United Nations presented eight challenges in the UN-Habitat World Cities Report 2016 and entitled them as “persistent issues and emerging urban challenges due to increased urban population”  (UN-Habitat, 2016, p. 2). In this contemporary context, cities must deal with “urban growth”, “change in family patterns”, “increased residency in slums and informal settlements”, “challenges in providing urban services”, “climate change”, “exclusion and rising inequality”, “insecurity” and “upsurge in international migration” (ibid). As consequence or follow up question one could ask about how can a city deal with these parameters? What does it need? Therefore Amin (2006, pp. 1020–1021) defines a “Good city” as “an expanding habit of solidarity and as a practical but unsettled achievement, constantly building on experiments through which difference and multiplicity can be mobilised for common gain and against harm and want”. This reveals a place of “throwntogetherness” and conflictual negotiations about how we live or can live together (Massey, 2005, p. 187). In other words, a city describes a melting pot of different people, their cultures and spaces (Valentine, 2013, p. 5), which is expressed by Vertovec (2007) as “super diversity”. Therefore, a city’s responsibility is to offer basic rights to “sustainable energy, sustainable water, clean air and environment, mobility for all, quality housing for all, childcare, health education open and green spaces, feeling safe to move around the city, decent work and pay […]” (Barrett et al., 2016, p. 11). To provide all listed basic rights and mentioned urban challenges the city administration needs to be innovative to realize a concept of an ideal city.

    To deal with contemporary challenges our research group suggests using multiple concepts concurrently in concretizing an ideal city. Our interpretation of an ideal city embraces sustainability, resilience, interconnectivity and ethical standards. All concepts should be considered as equivalent characteristics or an overarching gearwheel to envision an ideal city. Therefore, it is important to emphasize the characteristics of each concept further. The most common explanation of sustainability is associated with the term of sustainable development and its definition as: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”  (WCED, 1987, n.p.). It reveals the idea in balancing the relationship between human beings and our physical environment. Therefore, a sustainable city must harmonize the social, ecological and economical dimension of sustainability (Hatuka et al., 2018; Kuhlman & Farrington, 2010). Taking up the three dimensions Rana  (2009, p. 511) describes a sustainable city where people live with “sufficient income-earning”, “security” and “quality of life”. Due to the three dimensions Parker and Doak (2012) point out that sustainable development is a human made normative construction or perspective. In other words, the society defines what sustainable means. As following concept resilience shifts the focus on a disaster risk reduction to withstand a myriad of natural and human threats and challenges. In this context, a resilient city can deal with unpredictable future shocks like floods, earthquakes, social polarization etc. (Spaans & Waterhout, 2016). The Rockefeller´s City Resilience framework describes that building resilience in cities is becoming responsive to adverse events and being able to deliver basic functions to all residents regardless of shocks or stresses (ARUP, 2015). This complexity raises the question around the “five Ws” – “Who”, “What”, “When”, “Where”, ”Why” – hence resilience for whom or what (Meerow & Newell, 2019, pp. 316–317)? These “five Ws” indicate the uniqueness of resilience and each city or place. Continuing with the ongoing megatrend of digitization, the smart city concept concentrates on urban interaction, technical features and increasing efficiency. By means of information and communication technologies (ICT) dwellers should be linked with urban infrastructure and city services (Hatuka et al., 2018, p. 169). Additionally, smart cities need to address issues of inequality (Harvey, 2000), seek balance of economic growth and sustainability as well as building a democratic urban pluralism (Hollands, 2008). Finally, an ethical city mirrors the idea of Henri Lefebvre’s “right to the city” (Lefebvre, 1996). Thus, the ethical city concept stresses norms, values and seeks to create an awareness of problem-solving solutions. Furthermore, the concept underlines the importance of acting in, e.g., climate change, gender equality, rights of children and solution inclusion to thrive for a good life  (Brendan et al., 2016)! Further Parker and Doak (2012) stress that city planning cannot be separated from existing social, economic, ecological, and political circumstances.

    In this context, we were inspired by Foucault and Massey and their consideration of space and power. Massey calls “[…] space as the product of interrelations; as constituted through interactions, from immensity of the global to the intimately tiny” (Massey, 2005, p. 9). In addition, Foucault is concentrating on determined power relations in an ever-shifting space (cf. Foucault 1980). Therefore, making of city space shows a distinct heritage of values and norms in its design, which leads to production and reproduction of power relations (Sandberg & Rönnblom, 2016, p. 1752). Keith (2005, p. 1) stresses that “cities of the 21st century will increasingly be characterized by the challenges of multiculturalism”. This social transformation shows the pressing importance to picture cities as a holistic or integrated concept. Social justices, equality, mutuality and democracy, (Fainstein, 2005; Thrift, 2005) as well as a representation based on involvement and cooperated power (Amin, 2006, p. 1022) , are key factors in considering an ideal city.

    Consequently, it is important to pay close attention to the individuality of each city. By combining the four above named concepts – which are by far not the only concepts for an ideal city – we seek for a complex perspective on an ideal city. It is an ongoing transitional and creative process of thinking of our ideal city.

    → text: Johannes Melchert

    References

    Amin, A. (2006): The good city. Urban studies43(5-6), 1009-1023.

    ARUP (2014): City resilience framework. London: ARUP group Ltd.

    Barrett, B. F., Horne, R., & Fien, J. (2016). The ethical city: A rationale for an urgent new urban agenda. Sustainability8(11), 1197.

    Doak, J., & Parker, G. (2012). Key concepts in planning. Key Concepts in Planning, 1-296.

    Fainstein, S. S. (2005). Cities and diversity: should we want it? Can we plan for it?. Urban affairs review41(1), 3-19.

    Foucault, M. (1980): Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977, New York: Pantheon.

    Harvey, D. (2000). Spaces of hope (Vol. 7). Univ of California Press.

    Hatuka, T., Rosen-Zvi, I., Birnhack, M., Toch, E., & Zur, H. (2018). The political premises of contemporary urban concepts: The global city, the sustainable city, the resilient city, the creative city, and the smart city. Planning Theory & Practice19(2), 160-179.

    Hollands G. R. (2008): Will the real smart city please stand up?. City, 12:3, 303-320, DOI: 10.1080/13604810802479126.

    Keith, M. (2005). After the cosmopolitan?: Multicultural cities and the future of racism. Routledge.

    Kuhlman, T., & Farrington, J. (2010): What is sustainability?. Sustainability2(11), 3436-3448.

    Lefebvre, H. (1996): The right to the city. Writings on cities. Blackwell, Cambridge, MA.

    Sandberg, L., & Rönnblom, M. (2016). Imagining the ideal city, planning the gender-equal city in Umeå, Sweden. Gender, Place & Culture23(12), 1750-1762, DOI:10.1080/0966369X.2016.1249346.

    Massey, D. (2005): For space. SAGE Publications Ltd.

    Meerow, S., & Newell, J. P. (2019). Urban resilience for whom, what, when, where, and why?. Urban Geography40(3), 309-329.

    Rana, M. P. (2009). Sustainable city in the global North and South: goal or principle?. Management of Environmental Quality: An International Journal.

    Spaans, M., & Waterhout, B. (2017). Building up resilience in cities worldwide–Rotterdam as participant in the 100 Resilient Cities Programme. Cities61, 109-116.

    Thrift, N. (2005). But malice aforethought: cities and the natural history of hatred. Transactions of the institute of British Geographers30(2), 133-150.

    Habitat, U. N. (2016). World cities report 2016: Urbanization and development: Emerging futures. Nairobi: United Nations.

    Valentine, G. (2013). Living with difference: proximity and encounter in urban life. Geography98(1), 4-9, DOI: 10.1080/00167487.2013.12094359.

    Vertovec, S. (2007). Super-diversity and its implications. Ethnic and racial studies30(6), 1024-1054, DOI: 10.1080/01419870701599465.

    WCED, S. W. S. (1987). World commission on environment and development. Our common future17(1), 1-91.

    The figure below shows the four concepts described above (Smart City, Ethical City, Sustainable City, Resilient City) and the findings of the four research groups. The findings were assigned to the concept they fit the most. Nevertheless, the concepts overlap in some points and even cross-refer to each other. Thus, the findings never fit only to one concept.

    T

    The concept of ethical city (Brendan et al. 2016) is a contemporary take of “the right to the city” and emphasizes that at the core of an ethical city are social inclusion, respect, care and justice. City managers must pay attention to citizen engagement, enshrined rights to basic services as sustainable energy, sustainable water, clean air and environment, mobility for all, quality housing for all, childcare, health, education, open and green spaces, security and decent work and pay (Brendan et al. 2016) 

    T

    The smart city concept is multidimensional & multifaceted (Gil-Garcia et al. 2015) Core components are public services, city administration, policies and other institutional arrangements, governance, engagement, collaboration, human capital and creativity, the knowledge economy, built environment and city infrastructure, natural environment, information and communication technology (ICT) and data (Gil-Garcia et al. 2015) But the increase in ICT does not automatically imply a development towards an ideal city (Hollands 2008). Smart cities need to address issues of inequality (Harvey 2000), seek balance of economic growth & sustainability and to build a democratic urban pluralism (Hollands 2008).

     

    T

    The most common explanation of sustainability is associated with the term of sustainable development and its definition as: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987). It reveals the idea in balancing the relationship between human beings and our physical environment. Therefore, a sustainable city must harmonize the social, ecological and economical dimension of sustainability (cf. Kuhlman& Farrington 2010; Hatuka et al. 2018). Taking up the three dimensions Rana (2009) describes a sustainable city where people life with “sufficient income-earning”, “security” and “quality of life”. Due to the question human beings could/ should live are Park and Doak (2012) pointing out the normative construction of sustainability. In other words the society defines what sustainable means.

    T

    The concept of resilient city embraces the existence of unpredictable future shocks like floods and earthquakes and simultaneously deals with stresses as climate change or social polarization (Spaans, M., & Waterhoul, B., 2017). The Rockefeller´s City Resilience framework describes that building resilience in cities is becoming responsive to adverse events and being able to deliver basic functions to all residents regardless of shocks or stresses (ARUP 2014). In other word – increase the preparedness of the city. Due to the complexity of cities the question of “resilience of what?” and “-to what?” (Martin-Brenn, P. & Anderies, J.M. 2011) need to be answered. These questions emphasize the contextuality (of what) and normativity (to what) of building resilience in cities. Acording to Spanns and Waterhoul (2017) a resilient planning may require a selective approach rather than a holistic one and it is not about maintain systems but maintaining functions.

     

    Figure 8.1 Ideal City illustration based on the empirical findings of all research groups and linked to the concepts Sustainable City (Keivani , R., 2010), Ethical City (Brendan et al. 2016), Smart City(Gil-Garcia et al. 2015; Hollands 2008), Resilient City (Spaans, M., & Waterhoul, B., 2017 ).

    Visualisation by: Iris Trikha, Lisa Mödlhamme, Johannes Melchert , Richard Kempert. 

    References

    ARUP (2014): City resilience framework. London: ARUP group Ltd.

    Barrett, B. F., Horne, R., & Fien, J. (2016). The ethical city: A rationale for an urgent new urban agenda. Sustainability8(11), 1197.

    Doak, J., & Parker, G. (2012). Key concepts in planning. Key Concepts in Planning, 1-296

    Gil-Garcia, J. R., Pardo, T. A., & Nam, T. (2015). What makes a city smart? Identifying core components and proposing an integrative and comprehensive conceptualization. Information Polity20(1), 61-87.

    Hatuka, T., Rosen-Zvi, I., Birnhack, M., Toch, E., & Zur, H. (2018). The political premises of contemporary urban concepts: The global city, the sustainable city, the resilient city, the creative city, and the smart city. Planning Theory & Practice19(2), 160-179.

    Hollands G. R. (2008): Will the real smart city please stand up?. City, 12:3, 303-320, DOI: 10.1080/13604810802479126.

    Harvey, D. (2000). Spaces of hope (Vol. 7). Univ of California Press

    Kuhlman, T., & Farrington, J. (2010): What is sustainability?. Sustainability2(11), 3436-3448.

    Martin-Breen, P., & Anderies, J. M. (2011). Resilience: A literature review.

    Rana, M. P. (2009). Sustainable city in the global North and South: goal or principle?. Management of Environmental Quality: An International Journal.

    Spaans, M., & Waterhout, B. (2017). Building up resilience in cities worldwide–Rotterdam as participant in the 100 Resilient Cities Programme. Cities61, 109-116.

    WCED, S. W. S. (1987). World commission on environment and development. Our common future17(1), 1-91.

    In the next section you can listen to the findings of the different groups and how they are related to the four concepts of an ideal city:

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    Research Group Transient Spaces & Societies

    Geographisches Institut Innsbruck
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    Transient Spaces and Societies
    Transient Spaces and Societies