Opinion: Samyan MitrTown protest shows corporate greed has destroyed our public spaces

The scenes were shocking. Officers moved into arrest unarmed activists conducting a peaceful protest at Victory Monument. The protesters were beaten and dragged off to god knows where all because they violated an emergency decree put in place, supposedly, to keep the virus at bay.

The scenes were not much better at Samyan Mitr Town where police cordoned off protesters and pushed them towards the mall. The shops closed down and did not allow the protesters inside setting of a social media storm about collusion between the police and shop owners.

But while the troubles with Thai police are well documented, the incident at Samyan Mitr Town gives us an opportunity to discuss a relevant matter, Thailand’s lack of public spaces.

Before the monstrosity of a shopping mall was built, Samyam was a thriving community with a famous market that had been in place for decades. It was a community that had a good relationship with university students who were both customers and allies. But the area was torn down by the developers, in this case the Beer Chang Group, and a lifeless mall was put up in its place.

According to one protester who commented after the incident at Samyan Mitr Town, he was tear gassed outside parliament but escaped into the community surrounding the parliament where they sheltered him and let him rest.

That obviously did not happen this Saturday. Store employees shut their doors to the protesters under duress or orders from their bosses. We cannot blame them but we can ponder about the death of Thai communities.

As Jane Jacobs argued in the Death and Life of Great American Cities, urban development has a direct causal relationship with public participation. When urban planners forget about urban communities or public space, there is no longer room for participation, public life, and building bonds.

We can see this happening before our eyes as Bangkok gets gentrified and developed into one big shopping mall. There is no longer the communities of yesteryear both physically and spiritually. Gone are the physical spaces where the communities once stood and also gone are the bonds that are made through involvement in the community.

The areas around Chulalongkorn University bear witness to this trend. The university has been so enamored with monetary gain that they have forgotten the price they are paying in getting rid of these communities.

And it is a high price indeed, one that will be paid by the younger generations who will never get to experience what the neighbourhood once offered.

The fight the students were protesting for this weekend is for democracy. Let us also remind them to fight against corporate greed and for participation and community.

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