Citywide Housing in the city of Nakhon Sawan

The city of Nakhon Sawan has always been an important junction, first as the confluence of four rivers and port-of-call for barges and steamboats going downriver to Bangkok, and more recently as the junction of several major highways.  Nowadays, poor migrants coming into the city to fill the increasing demand for labor can’t find affordable land or housing, even though the city is filled with vacant public land, most under central government control, and find themselves trapped in the old cycle of squatting and eviction.

In the past three years, the community network in Nakhon Sawan has mushroomed from eight savings groups to over 50, most of them in squatter settlements and all strongly women-led.  With support from the Municipality’s Social Welfare Department, these women have plunged into a variety of activities in environmental improvement, health and credit.  It was the constant threat of evictions which eventually brought the network and the city to seriously examine the particular land-use problems behind those evictions.  In early 1999, along with municipality, NHA and UCDO, the network embarked on a collaborative process in Nakhon Sawan to provide healthy, secure housing for all the city’s urban poor at at one go.  Here’s what they did:

Surveyed:  The network first surveyed and mapped the city’s slums, in collaboration with the municipality, identifed tenure conditions for each and inventoried open land in the city.  At that time, the municipality officially recognized only 19 of the 53 slums, and the idea was to create a common understanding about the slum situation.  With 47 slums being on public land, there was good scope for planning at a city-wide level.

The communities in Nakorn Sawan participated the Baan Mankong Project

Prepared city-wide strategy:  A big workshop was held in August involving all the community people and the spectrum of local development actors.  The task was to find ways of using information from the survey and land inventory to draw up a city-wide plan for providing secure housing for all the poor in Nakhon Sawan, so there would be no more squatting in insecure and squalid conditions.  For almost everyone involved, this was a new thing:  looking at all the communities in the city as a whole, rather than individual projects.

Decided who stays, who relocates:  It was agreed that people in settlements with no land problems would get secure tenure and redevelop in-situ, and people in settlements on flood-land, facing eviction from private land or in the path of development plans would relocate to a “People’s Town” which they’d design and develop themselves, on land they chose.  For both in-situ and relocated development, the NHA will provide infrastructure, the UCDO will provide housing loans, the central government will provide land, the city will provide secure tenure and trunk infrastructure, and communities will build houses and manage the process.

Found land:  For the new People’s Town, the network and municipality identified 16 hectares of open land in the middle of town, under Finance Ministry ownership, reserved in the development plan for a prison.  They took advantage of a regulation which opens for other uses public land left unused for 20 years.

Developed their plan:  The network women invited two young Bangkok architects to help them sketch out their dream community, to include schools, market, playgrounds and room to expand.  Once everyone agreed to the plan, the work of filling in details and getting permissions began. All this required lots of co-ordinating between countless central, provincial and municipal offices to keep things moving, each step invol-ving careful political timing.  The whole process was kept open, marked at frequent intervals with meetings.

Slums in Nakhon Sawan  (October 2000 figures)

  • Total population of city 100,000 people
  • Total number of slums 53 slums (10,030 households)
  • Slums on private land 23 settlements (3,939 households)
  • Slums on government land 24 settlements  (5,148 households)
  • Land ownership in city 79% public owned and 22% privately owned
  • Have to move to new land 6 communities (856 families)
  • Land required per family 80 – 100 m2
  • Total land needed for resettlement 32 hectares