Kotchakorn Voraakhom: How Can We Better Design Cities To Fight Floods? Thai landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom designed a way to offset flooding in Bangkok by designing a park with underground tanks. She says her design can protect delta cities that are sinking.
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Kotchakorn Voraakhom: How Can We Better Design Cities To Fight Floods?

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Kotchakorn Voraakhom: How Can We Better Design Cities To Fight Floods?

Kotchakorn Voraakhom: How Can We Better Design Cities To Fight Floods?

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MANOUSH ZOMORODI, HOST:

On the show today, The Life Cycles Of Cities. And up until now, we've talked about how cities change based on how we humans build them. But for some cities, the natural environment has just as much to do with their rise and fall - literally.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

KOTCHAKORN VORAAKHOM: At this very moment, with every breath we take, major delta cities across the globe are sinking, including New York, London, Tokyo, Shanghai, New Orleans, as well as my city, Bangkok.

ZOMORODI: This is landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom on the TED stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

VORAAKHOM: The reality of Bangkok metropolitan region is a city of 15 million people, living, working and commuting on top of shifting muddy river delta. Bangkok is sinking more than 1 centimeters per year, and we could be below sea level by 2030.

ZOMORODI: Delta cities lie on soft river soil, soil that's slowly compressed by the weight of the skyscrapers and city life above. Eventually, these cities begin to sink. And Bangkok is sinking fast. Years of pumping up groundwater has left the soil even more unstable. And worse, climate change has intensified the rainy season. And more rain has meant more floods.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAIN FALLING, THUNDER CLAPPING)

VORAAKHOM: As a child, I remember I really had fun with the floodwater.

ZOMORODI: This is Kotchakorn on TED's "Pindrop" podcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VORAAKHOM: Like, I would just play. My dad would just have the boat for us, and we'd just, like, play with the flood. And it's such a significant, fun part of my childhood that I'm able to, like, swim in the flood and all that things. And it's, like, a joyful moment for me. But after the cities grow more dense, we have even more problem with how we deal with floods. And it's become a big disaster.

ZOMORODI: In 2011, Thailand's monsoon floods were the most damaging in its history.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

VORAAKHOM: Millions of my people, including me and my family, were displaced and homeless. Some had to escape the city. Many were terrified of losing their home and their belongings. So they stayed back in the flood with no electricity and clean water. For me, this flood reflects clearly that our modern infrastructure had made us so extremely vulnerable to the climate uncertainty.

ZOMORODI: While Bangkok's soil is soft, its surface is covered in concrete and pavement. And that means there's nowhere for all the water to drain. And so now during the rainy season, the streets fill up like bathtubs, and they can start to flood in just 30 minutes. But in 2012, Bangkok's biggest university held a design competition for 11 acres in the heart of the city. And Kotch had an idea to slow the flooding and sinking, and her idea was inspired by monkey cheeks.

VORAAKHOM: The monkey cheek - when the monkey eats its food, it stores its food in the cheek. And when the monkey's hungry, they eat this little food that they store.

ZOMORODI: Kotch proposed turning the land into a park with giant tanks installed underneath. This way, when the rains come, the water fills the tanks and can get used later during the dry season.

VORAAKHOM: So the monkey cheek is like the big retention area that will help the city hold the water.

ZOMORODI: Kotch won the competition, and Centenary Park opened in 2017. It has an amphitheater, playgrounds, a huge green roof and native wetland plants that filter the water.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

VORAAKHOM: And there are water bikes. People can pedals and help clean water. The exercise become an active part of the park water system. When life give you flood, you have fun with the water.

(LAUGHTER)

VORAAKHOM: Centenary Park gives room for people and room for water, which is exactly what we and our cities need. This is an amphibious design. This park is not about getting rid of flood. It's about creating a way we can live with it. And not a single drops of rain is wasted in this park. This park can hold and collect a million gallons of water. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

ZOMORODI: Kotch admits that her project is just one tiny solution for a huge problem. But she says architecture can help delta cities slow their sinking and cope with climate change in small, but strategic ways. They just need to be open and nimble.

VORAAKHOM: Yeah, this is our life. In a sense, we are like a Buddhist country as well. And the foundation of this Buddhism, the culture, is really adapt to change. And as a landscape, we deal with change all the time.

ZOMORODI: Kotchakorn Voraakhom is a landscape architect and founder of the Porous City Network. You can watch her full talk at ted.com. And check out TED's podcast "Pindrop." Kotch's interview came from their episode about Bangkok. And many thanks again to our friends at "Pindrop" for allowing us to share it with you. On the show today, The Life Cycles Of Cities. I'm Manoush Zomorodi, and you're listening to the TED Radio Hour from NPR.

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