A sunshine state of mind

Cornucopia PHOTOS: Suthon Sukphisit

There’s more than a handful of things that Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Bangkok have in common. For one, both places are hot, humid and rainy. Another thing is that they are both swarmed by mosquitoes, and palm, coconut and banana trees can be seen everywhere. A visit to Fort Lauderdale could very well make you feel right at home, save for the fact that cars drive on the right side of the road and the city boasts much better urban planning.

There are obvious cultural differences between the American city and Thai capital. What’s less obvious, however, is the physical likeness of the places, including their natural environments and urban development trajectories, although in the latter category, no city seems to be quite able to match Bangkok’s breakneck pace of growth.

Fort Lauderdale, located on Florida’s southeastern coast, is widely known as a city for retirees. Many elderly people move to the sunny city to slow down and escape some cold, wintry elsewhere.

It’s the hottest city in the United States, ideal for summer vacations in the sun, with a side of sea, white sand and yummy seafood.

These days, however, Fort Lauderdale is drawing in more than retirees — young immigrants from big cities like New York are going south due to the friendly climate, cheap cost of living and low income taxes.

The city also has many good schools and universities, a large seaport and a strong job market.

Is this starting to sound familiar to you? Our native Bangkok can be described in similar terms. Think of it — people from all over Thailand dream of moving to Bangkok for a variety of reasons, ranging from education, business and career opportunities or simply better luck.

In Fort Lauderdale, as in Bangkok, the city is constantly being challenged to adapt its infrastructure and environment to make room for growing numbers of residents.

Fort Lauderdale’s downtown area is a smart and well-executed space, unhampered by crowds. The Saw Grass Mills Superstore is strategically located 50 kilometres outside of downtown to avoid congesting the area.

The city has prepared itself well for expansion. Since it’s close to sea level and also rainy, a large canal has been built to connect to other pre-existing canals for more efficient drainage and soil retention.

One marked difference from Bangkok, however, is the fact all of Fort Lauderdale’s phone and electricity wires, drainage pipes, gas pipes and other cables are underground. Furthermore, all the streets are well-connected and spacious. The streets can accommodate all types of vehicles. Americans generally travel in private cars, with some families owning as many as four of them.

Most trees here are tropical, offering splashes of colour amid the green.

Due to its canal system and proximity to the sea, 80% of Fort Lauderdale residents commute by boat. Those who live close to a waterway often own a private boat.

Boating can also be a fun outdoor activity. The water is generally clean and well protected.

Household and factory waste water isn’t drained into the canal, but discharged into the sewers to be treated at facilities. Residents have to pay waste water fees.

Now let’s take a look at Bangkok’s expansion plan. Here in the capital, we have a tendency towards vertical growth — we like to keep building higher. This applies to not only the government and office buildings, but condominiums and department stores.

We have campaigned unsuccessfully for people to rely more on forms of public transport like the sky train or bus, but for many, private cars prove more convenient.

Like Fort Lauderdale, Bangkok’s geography consists of plains. Both cities have also grown and extended to more suburban provinces like Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani and Samut Prakan, where canals and tropical trees can be found.

But as the borders of the capital expand, the canals have begun to disappear to make space for roads. During rainy season, the limited space for water drainage leads to flash floods.

Roads often lack sewer pipes and if they do have them, they’re often quite small. Waste water flows from homes and office buildings directly into the canals, which is drained into the river without being treated first.

Bangkok has its share of trees, which help soften the ubiquitous appearance of concrete and eases pollution. At the same time, some trees have been cut down after residents claimed they damaged neighbouring wires and cables.

The two cities, though oceans apart, share a knack for attracting people for their friendly weather and relatively low costs of living. But Bangkok hasn’t quite nailed Fort Lauderdale’s smooth execution of city planning and environment control.

This is a serious, unresolved problem, but perhaps in Fort Lauderdale, we can find not only an American counterpart but a role model.

a tale of two cities: Fort Lauderdale has several similarities to the Thai capital, from its tropical weather to its canal systems. But its urban development has followed a vastly different trajectory. Suthon Sukphisit