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How placemaking is reshaping Bangkok urban planning

The Thai capital is playing host to several ambitious projects that will be completed over the next few years

Placemaking is about creating an environment that people choose or prefer to visit, and return to by incorporating and integrating several potential elements into a mall

Placemaking is based on a simple principle: if you plan cities for cars and traffic, you will get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you will get people and places:  Southeast Asia, not the least Bangkok, is playing catch-up.

In a recent report, CBRE says sluggish retail sales and flat rental growth are contributing factors. Elsewhere, e-commerce—although in its infancy—is drawing millennial shoppers online. Coupled with the fact that consumers in Thailand have become more sophisticated and demanding, the traditional “bricks and mortar” shopping malls will remain stretched.

These factors have made ‘Placemaking’—like ‘Retailtainment’—a frequently-discussed topic and hot trend in the retail industry in Thailand, despite floating definitions.

Placemaking is about creating an environment that people choose or prefer to visit, and return to by incorporating and integrating several potential elements into a mall.

Thai retailers have been taking notice. So have developers, with a focus on placemaking now a genuine retail trend.

Placemaking is based on a simple principle: if you plan cities for cars and traffic, you will get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you will get people and places. More traffic and greater road capacity are not the inevitable results of growth. They are products of very deliberate choices made to shape our communities to accommodate the private automobile.

One of the key elements of placemaking is the scale—the bigger, the better! Some smaller malls are declining simply because they cannot offer diversity and variety. We are now witnessing the trend of making a place a ‘destination’.

For example, Em District in Bangkok combines three shopping malls: Emporium, EmQuartier and the upcoming EmSphere. The concept is being undertaken by the same developer, using different concepts which complement one another. For convenience, all three locations are linked by a skywalk.

“Placemaking is something that makes a development quite unique and gives people reasons to go there that is different to what they can find elsewhere. It is making somewhere a recognizable landmark so that people want to live and stay there.”

The last key element happening in retail centers in Thailand is innovation and technology. Thailand’s first smart car parking system at EmQuartier is one example.

A leading coffee chain also implemented the “E-Wallet” mobile application where customers pay for their orders and collect points. The brand uses it to inform customers about new products and promotions. Many restaurants are now using tablets as a menu instead of traditional paper ones. Moreover, hi-tech IMAX theaters, digital-integrated lounges, and online booking are available for the convenience of movie lovers.

Another example is Gaysorn Group, who is combining three retail centers: Gaysorn, Gaysorn 2, and Amarin Plaza. These are to be linked by pedestrian bridges and named Gaysorn Village. Completion is expected around 2020.

Other elements which are being emphasized are experience, entertainment and excitement. New concept tenants such as Bounce Inc., an indoor trampoline park. are embracing this idea.

B2S, a local bookstore chain, has opened its first “Think Space” concept at Central EastVille with a total area of 30,000 sq. ft. as a place for new ideas, inspiration and networking.

For all its leadership moments in terms of live-work-play and multi-use developments, Bangkok still lacks the nuance of placemaking initiatives in other parts of the world, which often take into account concerns such as the number of social housing units. “In Bangkok, zoning and planning is still very broad-brush and is not micromanaged. So we’re very much driven by broad-brush approaches as to what can be built in terms of use.”

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