As is the case in many developing cities, informality in Bangkok is virtually inseparable from the formal; indeed, it’s often difficult to determine where the two diverge. Housing, markets, transportation, food, waste – in places like Bangkok, all of these systems straddle both the formal and informal worlds. The short documentaries you’re about to watch portray this grayish middle ground.
Of all the iconic images that define Bangkok in the world’s eyes – its serene temples, its swarms of motorcycles, its monumental malls – perhaps none are as conspicuous as its thousands of street vendors. Hawking everything from chicken and rice to bootleg DVDs to knockoff designer underwear, they line the city’s sidewalks, providing both inexpensive goods and informal employment. Their growing numbers have made them controversial, as leaders and citizens alike debate how much public space to allow them, and how to reconcile their presence with the need for pedestrian-friendly sidewalks. But like everything in this city of 12 million, the street-hawking economy is transforming as a new class of vendors brings an unfamiliar set of skills and ambitions to the scene.
Our blogger in Bangkok, Witchaya Pruecksamars, first wrote about Ae back in January. Ae’s story represents a larger shift taking place in Bangkok’s street-vending scene.
Informal housing is changing in Bangkok, too. Through a program called the Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI), more slum dwellers are being given the chance to take the lead in upgrading or resettling their homes. An alternative to top-down government solutions – which sometimes do more harm than good – CODI puts the people most affected by slum conditions at the forefront of the process.
These films are part of the Informal City Dialogues, a project supported by The Rockefeller Foundation in partnership with Forum for the Future and Next City. The project aims to start a conversation about informality in six different developing cities, and how we might make those cities more inclusive and resilient as we move into our rapidly urbanizing future.