The green way forward: expanding Bangkok's pocket parks

Bangkok's growth is leaving little room for green spaces. This has caused a disconnection between people and nature, leading to health concerns and a dull cityscape.

May 09, 2023

The new Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) initiated new green policies such as “15-minute pocket parks throughout the city” and “Support for the conversion of public and private space into green space”. However, the BMA's reliance on Floor-to-Area Ratio (FAR) bonuses has not been successfully promoting the development of green spaces in Bangkok. A shift towards tax or monetary incentives is necessary to incentivise developers to create more pocket parks.

Bangkok’s green space is relatively low compared to its population. According to the BMA (2023), the city has a green area ratio of 1.47 sqm per capita, far less than 9 sqm per capita – the minimum recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Currently, the BMA has proposed 124 locations for pocket parks, accounting for approximately 1.1 million sqm.

Figure 1: Public parks within a 15-minute walk distance analysis reported by the BMA

Source: JLL Research and Consulting Thailand and Strategy and Evaluation Department of Bangkok Metropolitan Administration

Figure 2: The green area ratio of Bangkok, compared to other big cities

Source: Strategy and Evaluation Department of Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (2022), Thai PBS (2021)

From the developer’s perspective, more GFA does not always imply higher profits. Some projects do not require maximum GFA according to their feasibility studies; therefore, the FAR bonuses might not be relevant for them. The FAR bonuses in Bangkok demand five options to gain more GFA for development, including building public parks. The approach has shifted the focus from public park development to water retention tank construction, as parks are costly to construct and maintain. Thus, developers prefer to build water retention tanks, which provide the same bonus. Therefore, monetary incentives such as tax waivers or strict taxation should be a better approach to boosting park creation.

Meanwhile, under the BMA proposed policies, landowners will receive tax waivers if they offer vacant lands to the BMA to develop public parks for at least a 7-year land use. Likewise, the BMA proposing a property tax increase from 0.01% to 0.15% for inappropriate agricultural-use land in commercial zones. Consequently, tax avoidance should be lower, and the land should be used for its intended purpose, benefiting residents.

Tokyo and New York City are two cities that provide excellent examples of incentivising public park creation. Tokyo has successfully created pocket parks due to a focus on community involvement, with residents volunteering for maintenance work. Alongside zoning regulations requiring parks in new developments, Tokyo provides funding and tax incentives to developers. Developers may be eligible for tax breaks or reductions in property taxes if their public park space meets the criteria. Conversely, The High Line Park in NYC caused gentrification, benefiting tourists rather than locals, leading to forced displacement due to rising property values. Such developments demonstrate that public park creation can lead to unintended consequences while highlighting the importance of community involvement in the planning process.

In conclusion, BMA should seek tax incentives and taxation to encourage the creation of pocket parks and green spaces from landlords and developers, in addition to the tax incentives from the current policy. With the upcoming green and sustainability trends, developers should consider including semi-public green spaces in their projects to serve the community.