The History and Political Economy of Urban Standards in Thailand

Oct 27, 2014 | 11:30 AM

Apiwat Ratanawaraha (Professor, Department of Urban and Regional Planning and the Urban Design and Development Center, Chulalongkorn University)
Discussant/chair: Michael Herzfeld (Ernest E. Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University)

*Please note early start time*

Standards are codified knowledge that serves as the foundation of human society. They exist in every product that we use, in every process that we follow, in every aspect of our life. Likewise, urban standards are everywhere in the city. There are building and housing codes, subdivision and plot specifications, open-space requirements, road dimensions, so on and so forth. These standards shape the façade, forms, fabrics, and flows of cities. Urban standards are a cornerstone of the efforts to plan and build our cities, and thus they define the ideals, identities, and meanings of urban lives.
 
As part of the efforts to plan and develop “modern” cities in Thailand, the rulers and governments in the past century have imported various approaches and methods of urban development and planning from Europe, the United States, and Japan. With these planning ideas came standards and codes that were expected to help shape the cities according the ideal pictures. But the standards established by the authorities are often resisted, ignored and avoided by many urban citizens, particularly the “informal” people such as slum dwellers and street vendors. An exploration into urban standards will reveal not only how Thai cities evolve and how they are related to the global world of urban standards, but also how Thai society is structured and how much or little it is changing in the context of globalization and democratization of ideas.
 
In this talk, Apiwat Ratanawaraha will discuss his preliminary work on the history of urban planning approaches and standards in Thailand, how much or little urban standards have shaped Thai cities, how the standards are contested and negotiated among various actors, and the implications of the process and outcome of standards setting for urban justice.

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