How do we get from this … at Chiang Mai Railway Park
To that ..at Huai Kaeo (Huai Keow) Arboretum?
The cheeky answer is of course walk if you cannot find wheels as the distance is but a few kilometres from the hot mess by the railway station.
But should you happen to live anywhere east of the old city you might well prefer that Railway Park was transformed into a shady oasis like that near the zoo. Maybe the Governor would agree and answer this plea with a positive response … ?
To: Mr Pawin Chamniprasat,
Governor of Chiang Mai,
Dear Sir ,
I write to request your assistance in improving the management of public parklands in Chiang Mai, with special reference to Railway Park, by arranging for the staff of the Huay Kaew Arboretum to guide maintenance and development works.
The observations I make here are on the basis of fifteen years living in our city and with other volunteers undertaking a program which involves collection of forest tree seeds, propagation of trees with the assistance of government nurseries and planting and care of trees in some thirty sites in and around the city ranging from Chiang Dao district in the north to Hang Dong in the South.
Status of parks in and around Chiang Mai City.
Chiang Mai being the premier administrative center of northern Thailand has a large estate of public lands in both the long developed areas of the city and the western periphery.
However most of these properties many of which have large park like gardens are fenced off from general public access.
The majority of temple grounds which once may have been places for children’s play and recreation for the population are no longer so suitable for these activities and many have become unsightly car parks and sources of revenue.
This leaves only a handful of small parks for easy access for residents of the city where the population is booming along with new apartment housing construction.
The following few parks come easily to mind:
- Suan Bok Haad , at the South Eastern corner of the Old City.
- Suan Kanchana Pisek, across the moat to the South of Suan Bok Haad, and also a tiny park a little futher to the South.
- The small, but prominent, park in front of the Governor’s Residence.
- Railway Park.
- The Chiang Mai Huai Kaeo Arboretum.
- The 6 kilometre long verges of the City Moat.
Parks both big and small with their trees, gardens, open spaces and water bodies are much loved features of many cities around the world and Chiang Mai is a pauper in parkland.
With the rising population of both residents and visitors parkland management and development has been neglected in recent years in comparison to the provision of improved road and water infrastructure and a strategic approach is overdue. The same can be said of street trees. Fifteen years ago Dr Preecha Ongprasert of the Royal Forest Department wrote his PhD thesis on street trees of the city but this has gone unheeded.
I recommend that for the medium to long term that the government commission a study of all its lands in urban Chiang Mai and develop a strategy for their development for the benefit of the public for open space access.
In the short term there is an immediate need to address some issues in our existing parks to prevent their deterioration through incompetent management which is strikingly obvious in some.
Of the six park areas listed above I would rate their standard of tree care ranging from – Disastrous, Railway Park , – Poor The Moat , – Acceptable, Suan Kanchana Pisek & Bok Haad, to – Excellent , Huai Kaeo Arboretum.
Railway Park has had a difficult history of development since its genesis early this century during the government of Dr Thaksin Shinawatra.
I am informed that the initial proposal from residents of the eastern side of town was for a simple design with paths and dominated by shady trees, perhaps not unlike the Arboretum.
Before the advent of airconditioned shopping malls the Arboretum was a favourite retreat for residents from a hot and dusty town during the worst of the dry heat. Railway Park which already had big Rain Trees could be an ideal place of shade for the eastern half the city.
However the residents dream has yet to be realized. The original development plan was to cost 99 million baht, but when Bangkok got into the action the price became 299 million baht. Additional features which came with the extra 200 million included a grandiose gateway, an ill designed amphitheatre, a large two storey exercise hall and an unfenced swimming pool, none of which are in use today.
Construction of the project was shoddy with none of the extra features in proper use to this day. The land was filled with clay and rubble killing most of the big old trees and there has been subsequent subsidence of pathways and collapse of structures.
Disputes over the construction kept the park closed for a number of years until it was opened in 2010 and management handed over to the municipal government.
The planting of trees in the park was unsatisfactory with a reliance of non-local species planted as large specimens and hundreds of metres of hedges.
In 2010 Chiang Mai Yiem, a promotional venture came to town, and in association with that and with the permission of the municipal government, our volunteers undertook the planting of 30 species of local trees to augment the original planting in the park. There have been further plantings in subsequent years.
Many of the extra trees grew well and are assets which have improved the park, however many have suffered damage or been lost due to lack of skills of maintenance workers and poor direction which focused entirely on cutting and keeping the place looking neat. Many trees have been vandalized in the process, and small trees cut down by sloppy cutting of grass, and this continues.
While this regime was in place public safety was ignored and despite my repeated requests to have them removed large dead trees , dropping branches, were allowed to stand. Only by the intervention of former governor Suriya at my request were these cut down.
Management reverted to the Railways department through the local Station Master three years ago. A company Asia Cleaning , with no apparent horticultural skills, has been contracted to tend the park and vandalism by them of the trees has intensified.
Huai Kaeo Arboretum , with a history of over a century, lies at the other end of the excellence spectrum from Railway Park and I would recommend a guided tour of the park , its museum and tree nursery.
The Arboretum has seen much development in recent years and is a great credit to the management and staff. The tree nursery has been expanded and upgraded and now included a great variety of species suitable for urban, roadside and forest restoration purposes.
Staff recently teamed up with the Main Roads Department and Chiang Mai Meur Yen Meung Yen community action group to provide and plant trees at the new tunnel intersection the Mae Rim Road.
Tree selection, placement and care is very well managed. All trees are planted when relatively small and easily carried by one person. This is very cost effective and produces trees with vigorous growth and well developed root systems in contrast to the extravagant planting of oversized trees which has become a fashion and should be forbidden in the public sector. Trees are also planted with regard to their ecological requirements with enough separation to ensure continued growth.
Around and beneath trees lawn grasses are planted but and exclusion zone of 30 or so centimetres is maintained to ensure grass cutting does not damage or kill the young trees.
On the contrary in the other parks listed none of these practices are the norm.
The Director General of the Royal Forests Department and a group of his senior staff recently planted small Payom trees in front of Wat Suan Dok, where an earlier planting of trees moved at great expense is failing as they senesce and die. The Director General deserves commendation for setting this excellent example.
Another striking difference between the Arboretum and especially the Railway Park , and also in the grounds of Chiang Mai University , is the management of established trees. In a well managed park cutting of branches or whole trees does occur but only when rare instances necessary in the interests of public safety.
Unlike less professional or untrained parks staff the Arboretum does not permit the topping of trees, that is cutting of the leading vertical shoot, nor lifting, that is removal of lower lateral branches, in the mistaken view that this accelerates vertical growth, when in fact it stunts growth.
Both myself and others have raised these issues of tree mismanagement with Chiang Mai municipality, the Chiang Mai Railway station management and also the management of Huai Teng Tao reserve managed by the Royal Thai Army, but all in vain.
The message does not appear to be getting through and trees continue to be improperly planted and often stunted or die. It appears to me that many government bodies lack knowledge of good landscape management practices and also supervisors take the approach of directing ground staff without themselves understanding the issues . The alternative is having staff trained by professional experts and becoming knowledgeable enough to advise their superiors who as is the practice in the government service, are likely to be moved around the country and therefore lack local knowledge. One could say we become trapped in a cycle of incompetence.
The solution in the case of Chiang Mai,however, is relatively easy and that is to make use of the excellent skills of the staff of the Huai Kaeo Arboretem.
I recommend that the Arboretum firstly be invited to take over planning and supervision of the landscape development and implementation in Railway Park and to train local managers and ground staff.
To ensure this is done in a cost effective way I also recommend that staff from Chiang Mai municipality and Huai Teng Tao be invited to training sessions and that the government Public Relations Department be asked to film demonstrations as part of the course.