Asia’s old communities vanishing amid rapid growth

Jackhammers and cranes are closing in on one of the last historic quarters of Thailand’s capital as developers and city authorities pursue plans to build subways and high-rises — with little thought to preserving heritage. The story is common amid the rapid economic development across much of Asia that has raised living standards for millions. But the relentless drive to build, modernize and emulate the West — combined with a mindset that equates the old with backwardness — has already consigned many traditional communities to rubble, and with them a way of life.

If these old buildings are demolished, the people will go. So will the lifestyle and culture. And that is irreplaceable.

Tiamsoon Sirisrisak, a researcher on culture at Bangkok’s Mahidol University

Rapid urbanization, weak legislation, corruption and even some religious beliefs have contributed to the trend. Most Asian cities have ignored recommendations to leave their traditional cores intact and bring modern development to outer areas, as many European cities have done. A 2011 survey revealed that 44,000 — or a fifth — of some 225,000 important cultural sites in China have fallen victim to construction.

This has happened to many world heritage sites… We don’t want the soul of (our) city to die.

Khoo Salma, a leading Malaysian conservationist