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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

Urban population, settlement patterns, and employment distribution

Before looking into the way in which and the extent to which the above overall growth and economic transformation affect the Thai urban system, two of the most important characteristics of the urban system will be discussed. They are the structure and settlement patterns of the urban population, and the locational distribution of employment.

The urban population and its settlement patterns

One of the most often quoted statements about Thailand's urbanization found in most literature on the subject is that the level of urbanization in Thailand is quite low in comparison with other countries at the same development level. Although this statement is generally true, it is not quite accurate and could be misleading. The fault lies with the strict counting of municipal areas as urban areas or urban places, and all the rest as rural areas. As Penporn (1990) convincingly argues, using municipal areas to denote urban places seriously underestimates the degree of urbanization in Thailand. This is mainly because, on the one hand, the number of municipalities has increased very slowly in the past 30 years, and, on the other hand, many sanitary districts2 have grown larger than 5,000 population and a minimum average density of 1,000 persons per km2 but have not been converted into municipalities. In 1960, for example, the number of municipalities throughout the country was 120. In 1988, only 12 more areas were added to the rank of municipalities. In contrast, compared with 1975, the number of sanitary districts with over 5,000 population and the required population density increased from 305 to 528. It is more appropriate, therefore, to define these large sanitary districts as urban areas or urban places and their residents as urban population.

The detail of the size and distribution of the urban population and urban places can be seen from a series of tables produced by Penporn (1990), In table 9.1, for example, the size of the urban population and the number of urban places by region and urban status are presented. The table shows that in 1988 there were about 15.8 million people living in 660 urban areas or places in Thailand. The urban population living in Bangkok Metropolitan Area as a percentage share of the total population in all municipal areas was high at 57.2 per cent in1988 but, when all urban sanitary districts are counted as urban areas, this percentage drops to 36.2 per cent. The level of urbanization in 1988 increases from 18.2 to 28.7 per cent when urban sanitary districts are counted as urban areas. This is a more accurate figure for the level of urbanization in Thailand.

Table 9.1 Size of the urban population and number of urban places by region and urban status in Thailand, 1975-1988


Urban population ('000)

Urban places (no.)

Region

1975

1980

1985

1988

1975

1980

1985

1988

Municipal areas

Bangkok

4,349

5,153

5,363

5,716

1

1

1

1

Bangkok Vicinity

192

210

251

438

8

8

8

8

Sub-Central

224

241

264

312

14

14

14

15

East

241

311

358

385

14

15

16

17

West

248

267

308

317

12

12

13

13

North-east

621

694

1,057

1,115

21

21

25

26

North

589

675

819

830

24

24

25

25

South

590

713

806

876

25

25

25

27

Whole kingdom

7,054

8,264

9,226

9,989

119

120

127

132

Urban sanitary districts

Bangkok

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Bangkok Vicinity

380

507

648

821

22

28

31

33

Sub-Central

293

328

358

353

31

33

34

34

East

290

375

496

549

23

31

39

45

West

295

417

482

503

32

43

46

47

North-east

878

1,267

1,578

1,829

96

126

162

189

North

786

1,041

1,239

1,422

81

101

123

142

South

172

228

298

314

20

26

34

38

Whole kingdom

3,094

4,163

5,099

5,791

305

388

469

528

All urban places

Bangkok

4,349

5,153

5,363

5,716

1

1

1

1

Bangkok Vicinity

572

717

899

1,259

30

36

39

41

Sub-Central

517

569

622

665

45

47

48

49

East

531

686

854

934

37

46

55

62

West

543

684

790

820

44

55

59

60

North-east

1,499

1,961

2,635

2,944

117

147

187

215

North

1,375

1,716

2,058

2,252

105

125

148

167

South

762

941

1,104

1,190

45

51

59

65

Whole kingdom

10,148

12,427

14,325

15,780

424

508

596

660

Source: Penporn (1990:table 2).

However, it must be observed that, although the urban population share of Bangkok as a region in the total urban population declines over time, this says nothing of the concentration of urban population in Bangkok as a city, which is still as high as ever. The primacy index - defined as the ratio of the population of the largest city (in this case the Bangkok Metropolitan Area) over the population of the next three largest cities combined - may have fallen from 17.1 to 10.7 between 1980 and 1988, but this urban concentration is still very startling.3 Moreover, since the above figures were derived by using the population of Bangkok Proper or BMA, and not including those in the surrounding cities that now form part of Greater Bangkok or Bangkok Metropolitan Region (BMR), this primacy index could go higher if the integrated Bangkok population figure were used for computation.

Although the overall level of urbanization in Thailand is considered relatively low, the rate of urban population growth is considered quite high. The average annual rate of growth of the urban population between 1975 and 1980 was 4.06 per cent, whereas the rural population grew by only 1.37 per cent each year. Between 1980 and 1985, the urban population growth rate became slower at 2.82 per cent, but this is still faster than the growth rate of the rural population for the same period. During the three-year period 1985-1988, the urban population growth rate rose again to 3.23 per cent while that of the rural population fell. These trends are likely to continue. It should be noted also that the fastest-growing areas in terms of urban population occurred in the Bangkok Vicinity areas and the surrounding Central region, attesting to the fact that these are dynamic areas of future urban development.

Finally, Penporn (1990) also provides information on the settlement pattern of the urban population by looking at the distribution of the urban population by size of place (under 10,000, 10,00049,999, 50,000-999,999, and 1 million and over). Between 1975 and 1988, municipal areas and urban sanitary districts with a population size of between 50,000 and 1 million grew in significance, rising from a share of 9.1 per cent of all urban areas in 1975 to 15.3 per cent in 1988, whereas the share of the largest urban areas (over 1 million) had reduced from 42.8 to 36.2 per cent. In terms of the growth rate of these urban areas, the average annual growth rates between 1975 and 1988 of the four different sizes of urban area were, respectively, 3.02, 3.78, 7.67, and 2.13 per cent. This again confirms the increasing importance of urban areas with population sizes between 500,000 and 1 million.

Employment distribution

Because employment is one of the most important determinants of living location, the employment pattern can depict something about the existing urban system. More specifically, as agriculture is closely associated with rural areas, whereas industry and services are more closely associated with urban areas, changes in employment in these sectors could be useful in the study of the nature and scope of urbanization. In this respect, the employment distribution over time would be helpful to this study of the changing urban system.

As a part of his study in the National Urban Development Policy Framework project, Jittapatr (1991) gave a summary account of how sectoral employment in Thailand is distributed. In table 9.2, the numbers of people employed in three traditional sectors, namely, agriculture, industry (mainly manufacturing and utilities), and services are presented for three time-periods, 1980, 1984, and 1988. In 1988, for example, the relevant figure shows that Thailand had about 29.5 million workers employed in the three sectors. This labour force represented about 53.9 per cent of the total population, an increase from 50.7 per cent in 1975.

The proportion of population employed in the agricultural sector was still very high at 66.4 per cent in 1988. This represents only a small decline in percentage share from 70.4 per cent in 1980. As for the manufacturing and service sectors, the employment shares were 11.3 and 22.2 per cent, respectively, in 1988, which is not very large considering the existing stage of economic development and transformation in Thailand. However, this employment situation is changing quickly. The rate of employment growth in the manufacturing sector increased substantially from 7.1 per cent during 1980-1984 to 27.1 per cent during 1984-1988. The corresponding rates of growth in the service sector for the same time-periods were 13.4 and 34.8 per cent, respectively. A closer look at employment growth across regions reveals that most employment growth took place in Bangkok and the areas surrounding it. Again, this reaffirms the significance of Bangkok and its environs as a major source of industrial growth.

Projections of population and urbanization

The study of national urban development policy in the seventh National Economic Development Plan called for the research team at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) to make a forecast of Thailand's population and level of urbanization at least until 2010.4 TDRI has developed its own projection model, and the result of the forecast is shown in table 9.3.

Table 9.2 Employment by major sector, 1980-1988 ('000)


Agriculture

Manufacturing, utilities, and other industry

Services

Total employment

Region

1980

1984

1988

1980

1984

1988

1980

1984

1988

1980

1984

1988

Bangkok

186

126

77

822

794

933

1,389

1,475

1,848

2,397

2,395

2,858

5 Provinces

381

385

641

225

314

427

195

281

409

801

980

1,477

Centre

2,362

2,627

3,097

501

501

638

823

728

1,206

3,686

3,856

4,941

North

3,910

4,433

4,581

295

417

535

712

860

1,099

4,917

5,710

6,215

North-east

7,236

7,811

8,904

316

295

438

703

881

1,108

8,255

8,987

10,450

South

1,930

2,060

2,277

290

298

363

464

624

883

2,684

2,982

3,523

Missing


164



5



11



179


Total

16,005

17,606

19,577

2,449

2,624

3,334

4,286

4,860

6,553

22,740

25,089

29,464

Source: Jittapatr (1991:table 2-1).

TDRI estimated in 1990 that the population of Thailand would increase by 15 million or about 26 per cent in the next 20 years, from 56.1 million in 1990 to 71.1 million by the year 2010. The average annual predicted population growth rate for the kingdom was 1.42 per cent during 1990-1995 and 1.19 per cent during 1995-2010. This is slightly lower than the rate in the recent past and significantly lower than the rate of increase in the decades prior to 1980.

For the BMR, the population was estimated to increase from 8.9 million to 12.6 million over the next 20 years, or an average increase of 16.3 per cent. Even more striking are the projected increases for the extended BMR, which includes BMR, Ayutthaya, Sara Buri, Chachoengsao, and the eastern seaboard areas. The population within this geographical area will grow from 12 million to 17 million, and increase its share of total population from 21.5 per cent in 1990 to 24.3 per cent by 2010.

The urban population of the BMR is composed of the population living in the BMA, which is 100 per cent urbanized according to the geographical definition, and those living in the surrounding five provinces. The urban population of the BMA was expected to grow at about 1.5 per cent per annum between 1990 and 2000, and 1.1 per cent between 2000 and 2010. This rate is much lower than the growth rate of the urban population of the five adjacent provinces, which was expected to be about 3.6 per cent during the first decade of the twenty-first century. In number terms, the urban population of the five provinces will increase from 1.5 million to 3.5 million, that is, more than double within 20 years. In percentage terms, the urban population in the five provinces will increase from 54.1 per cent to 75.8 per cent between 1990 and 2010. Within the BMA itself, however, much of the population growth will occur in the urban fringes rather than in the central core area, where population densities have decreased slightly over the past several years.

Urbanization rates throughout the country will change less dramatically than within the BMR. Only the Eastern region was projected to have more than half of its population living in urbanized areas by the year 2010. The percentage of urban population in the North is next largest at 37.5 per cent, followed by the West at 34.7 per cent. The North-east and the South will remain the least urbanized with urbanization rates of 32.9 and 32.1 per cent, respectively, by the year 2010.

Table 9.3 TDRI projected urban, rural, and total population by region in Thailand, 1990-2010 ('000)

Region

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

BMA

Total population

6,162

6,679

7,149

7,577

7,977

Urban

6,162

6,679

7,149

7,577

7,977

% urban

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

Growth rate: urban


1.61

1.36

1.16

1.03

Vicinity

Total population

2,808

3,220

3,655

4,107

4,575

Urban

1,519

1,944

2,418

2,928

3,468

Rural

1,289

1,275

1,238

1,179

1,107

% urban

54.09

60.38

66.15

71.30

75.81

Growth rate: Total


2.74

2.54

2.33

2.16

Urban


4.94

4.36

3.83

3.39

Rural


- 0.21

-0.61

- 0.97

- 1.26

Upper Centre

Total population

2,755

2,900

3,039

3,163

3,270

Urban

770

906

1,056

1,214

1,377

Rural

1,985

1,993

1,983

1,949

1,893

% urban

27.96

31.26

34.74

38.38

42.11

Growth rate: Total


1.03

0.93

0.80

0.67

Urban


3.25

3.05

2.79

2.52

Rural


0.09

- 0.11

-0.34

- 0.58

East

Total population

3,491

3,833

4,184

4,534

4,871

Urban

1,171

1,474

1,821

2,206

2,617

Rural

2,320

2,359

2,363

2,328

2,254

% urban

33.55

38.44

43.52

48.66

53.73

Growth rate: Total


1.87

1.75

1.60

1.43

Urban


4.60

4.24

3.83

3.42

Rural


0.34

0.03

-0.30

-0.65

West

Total population

3,254

3,433

3,609

3,775

3,918

Urban

860

974

1,097

1,227

1,358

Rural

2,393

2,459

2,512

2,548

2,560

% urban

26.44

28.38

30.40

32.49

34.66

Growth rate: Total


1.07

1.00

0.90

0.74

Urban


2.49

2.37

2.23

2.03

Rural


0.54

0.43

0.29

0.09

North-east

Total population

19,321

20,507

21,641

22,681

23,516

Urban

3,463

4,330

5,342

6,490

7,728

Rural

15,858

16,178

16,299

16,191

15,788

% urban

17.92

21.11

24.68

28.61

32.86

Growth rate: Total


1.19

1.08

0.94

0.72

Urban


4.47

4.20

3.89

3.49

Rural


0.40

0.15

-0.13

-0.50

North

Total population

10,804

11,364

11,845

12,244

12,575

Urban

2,567

3,051

3,575

4,132

4,714

Rural

8,237

8,313

8,269

8,111

7,861

% urban

23.76

26.85

30.18

33.75

37.49

Growth rate: Total


1.01

0.83

0.66

0.53

Urban


3.45

3.17

2.89

2.64

Rural


0.18

-0.11

-0.38

-0.63

South

Total population

7,488

8,269

8,988

9,708

10,415

Urban

1,513

1,891

2,314

2,798

3,340

Rural

5,975

6,379

6,674

6,910

7,074

% urban

20.20

22.86

25.74

28.82

32.08

Growth rate: Total


1.99

1.67

1.54

1.41

Urban


4.46

4.04

3.80

3.54

Rural


1.31

0.90

0.70

0.47

Whole kingdom

Total population

56,082

66,206

64,110

67,789

71,118

Urban

18,114

21,379

24,950

28,802

32,579

Rural

37,968

38,827

39,160

38,987

38,537

% urban

32.30

35.51

38.92

42.49

45.81

Growth rate: Total


1.42

1.26

1.12

0.96

Urban


3.32

3.09

2.87

2.64

Rural


0.45

0.17

- 0.09

-0.38

Source: Adapted from Teera (1990).

Finally, TDRI also predicted that in the next 20 years, the BMR and the Eastern region would be the only regions to receive net in-migration from all other regions in the country. The detail of this future net migration pattern is shown in table 9.4. It can be seen that, between 2005 and 2010, about 116,000 and 316,900 in-migrants will be received in the East and in the BMR, respectively. By that time the rural population in most parts of the country will have declined in absolute numbers. If this is true, then Thailand could be called a largely urban society within 20 years or so.

To conclude, it seems clear that Thailand is slowly but firmly moving away from an agrarian economy into an industrialized or at least semi-industrialized economy. Economic growth and transformation, of course, have had a great deal of influence upon the existing rural-urban configurations, and the increasing process of urbanization. To what extent have these conditions been brought about by exposure to international linkages and contacts? To what extent was the change in the urban system a direct result of some internal or domestic policy and pressure? These questions will be discussed in the following sections.

Table 9.4 TDRI projected net in-migration to the Eastern region and the BMR, 1990-2010 ('000)


Region

Period

East

BMA

Five Provinces

BMR

1990-1995

94.5

124.3

181.9

306.2

1995-2000

105.2

115.0

194.9

310.0

2000-2005

111.3

108.1

206.2

314.3

2005-2010

116.0

103.5

213.4

316.9

Source: Adapted from Teera (1990: table 2.9).