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close this bookEmerging World Cities in Pacific Asia (UNU, 1996, 528 pages)
close this folderPart 2. Changing Asia-Pacific world cities
close this folderThe changing urban system in a fast-growing city and economy: The case of Bangkok and Thailand
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentGrowth and transformation of the Thai economy
View the documentUrban population, settlement patterns, and employment distribution
View the documentThe international dimension of the changing urban system
View the documentThe internal dimensions of the changing urban system
View the documentThe urbanization of bangkok: its prominence, problems, and prospects
View the documentConclusions: towards a new national urban development policy for Thailand
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentNotes
View the documentReferences


The major purposes of this chapter are twofold. First, it will describe the characteristics of the changes in the urban system associated with the rapid economic growth and development of Thailand during the 1980s in general, and the growth of Bangkok, its capital city, in particular. Secondly, it will discuss the effects of these changes upon the future development of Bangkok and the future directions of Thailand's urban development policy.

What makes the above topics interesting is the fact that, in a situation of high economic growth, the process of urbanization (defined as the increase in the proportion of the total population living in urban areas) could either further stimulate the growth of the economy or hinder future growth after a preliminary period of urban expansion. No doubt, the existing urban system in Thailand has helped contribute to the present high rate of economic growth because it provides the location and the ease with which the country could produce for the domestic market and for export, and encourages the expansion of personal and commercial service industries such as education, banking, transportation, and tourism. However, a most important question still is: If the country is to continue its fast growthpattern, what changes or adjustments are needed in the existing urban system, and to what degree?

Thailand provides an interesting and unique case in which a study can be made of the linkages between rapid economic growth and the process of urbanization. On the one hand, the two-digit growth rates in the last three years of the 1980s might be considered very high, but not out of ordinary because similar growth rates (even higher) had also been achieved by such countries as Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore. On the other hand, Thailand possesses several unique physical, demographic, and economic characteristics that make such a study interesting. For example, despite its being labelled an upcoming newly industrializing country (NIC), Thailand still has two-thirds of its population employed in the agricultural sector, where the per capita value-added is less than 10 per cent of the per capita value-added of the industry and service sectors. Thailand has only one large city, Bangkok, whose extreme primacy is already well known, and the level of urbanization is still low compared with other countries at the same level of economic development.

In many respects, the growth of Thailand is seen as the growth of Bangkok, and vice versa.1 Bangkok provides a powerful growth engine that propels the whole economy forward. In an era of rapid international communications, Bangkok could serve as an important growth centre of the Asia-Pacific region, particularly the Indo-China or the Golden Peninsula region. That Bangkok has become a world city is widely accepted, but how can Bangkok share its wealth and prosperity with other cities in the nation? How well has Bangkok provided growth linkages with other regions? How tenable is the situation in which Bangkok prospers while the rest of the country or much of it is still poor? What are the costs of growth and prosperity as far as Bangkok and the rest of the country are concerned? What kinds of changes are pertinent in the urban system under the rapid economic growth of Thailand? These are a few of the questions that will be raised and discussed in this chapter.

Before the changes in the urban system in Thailand are discussed, the next section will briefly discuss the pattern of growth and transformation of the Thai economy in the past three decades, especially in the last half of the 1980s, to give a broad picture of how Thailand slowly changed from a rural-based society to an increasingly urban-based society. The third section describes the overall patterns and trends of population, urbanization, and employment by location and sector, providing the background against which specific aspects of the urban system in Thailand can be analysed. The fourth section looks at the international dimension of the changes in the urban system, particularly the involvement of foreign trade, investment, and tourism, whereas the fifth section is concerned with the internal or domestic dimensions of such changes as changes in household income, regional inequality, rural and urban poverty, and so on. The sixth section considers the growth and urbanization of Bangkok in the context of the Thai economy. Its urban development conditions will be discussed, its major urban problems analysed, and some specific measures for coping with existing and expected problems evaluated. Finally, the above changes in the urban system under rapid economic growth form the basis upon which a future national urban development policy could be built and operated.