Ban Mankong

According to Dr Sopon Pornchokchai, President of the Thai Appraisal Foundation, writing in the Bangkok Post:

“Providing security of tenure for slum-dwellers where land is scare, and too expensive for others to afford, should be reconsidered. In fact, slums can be relocated to provide better use of land for the slum-dwellers themselves, for other members of other poor communities and for other people in the city without creating disparity.”

Dr Sopon is writing about the Ban Mankong or Secure Housing Scheme under which a small number of people squatting in slums have had their residence exchanged for (very) low cost housing units on the same area. He criticizes the scheme on the basis that more money could have been made through normal property development (with some profits of course diverted towards the poor), that the density of housing is too low for a city like Bangkok, that it privileges a few slum dwellers and, therefore, disadvantages others and so on. His approach is rational, technocratic and apparently based on the belief that the urban planning system in place is fundamentally sound but contains a few flaws which may be resolved through technical efficiency.

In reality, of course, the phrase ‘slums can be relocated’ will strike a chill into the heart of those who have seen it happen in Phnom Penh, for example, or in the run up to the Olympics in Seoul and elsewhere. While it is rational to argue that the poor will benefit more from moving to another location with access to better services and so forth, the problem is that the poor are disenfranchised (in Bangkok there are almost certainly classified as migrants and therefore quite literally cannot vote for representatives of the place where they live) and subject to silencing – if they are removed from their homes (as the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration would like to do with many street vendors, for example, on efficiency, hygiene and aesthetic grounds), then they will just be discarded onto a (possibly quite literally) rubbish dump.