Baan Man Kong Project Sang Ton Eng Community
In 2005 Samut Prakan started work on a new government center in Bang Pu Mai along Old Sukhumvit Road. This area held a number of communities that had staked claim to their dwellings as long as ten years ago, but now forced evictions and demolitions were steadily advancing. The Nangnuan community consisted primarily of laborers from other mostly Northeast provinces who had come to ply their trades here, contracting their services, selling things, and toiling in factories. Moving in, they had unwittingly bought and built houses on government land without legal title. When the true owner asserted property rights, those little houses the residents had built with their own labor had to be abandoned, and the
people all set adrift. The government offset this a tiny bit by allowing use of a nearby area where temporary shelters could be built, but this provided no sort of secure life. Some had enough resources to buy new houses, but for many more that solution wasn’t available, so reluctantly they moved there to
face an uncertain future.
The members of this community had roots in the provinces, but had moved with the intention of settling down to live in an urban society. Leaving for work first thing in the morning to return in the evening, almost none had much interaction or shared history with their neighbors. A community could only come about if people joined in cooperation to solve common problems. This made it difficult to cooperate in filing their petition.
The community’s architects often came to the site as mentors, helping to create understanding, stepping through the process with the community, encouraging residents to see both necessity and opportunity in participatory savings for the Baan Mankong project, which was really the only way for them to get houses. They divided the villagers up into eight small groups of neighbors, with each group assigned a color. Smaller groups made it easier to adjust schedules for meetings and discuss details, and there they brainstormed plans for community space and chose where each group’s houses would be. They used architectural tools to design and create life-size model homes in 1 : 1 proportions, giving residents an idea of what life would be like in the new houses. Repeating the process many times changed novices into knowledgeable people. Starting with each person and each group learning details of each other’s lives, little by little a true community came about.
Petitioning to rent property to build the community on Treasury Department land was the most difficult task of all. All rights had officially been assigned to the Province for building the government center. The residents had no prior knowledge of procedural steps in governmental negotiations,
but with the community architects’ help, they learned bit by bit.This group was not well-educated, had no ability in computer use or printing documents, and was unsophisticated in language used in government publications. But whoever was able to help joined in with the others, submitting clumsy hand-written documents to the Treasury Department requesting the right to live in their former area and showing as surety their participation in the Baan Mankong project, demonstrating the benefits of a large group building a strong community. With great perseverance, patience, confidence, a great many
communications, the agency was eventually satisfied, and they were given long-term property rental rights and could build houses under the Baan Mankong project.
At this point, Sang Ton Eng Community presents a model way of interdependent community life. Its small houses rest on 4 ˟ 6 square meter plots, with low fences separating them but not blocking social interaction. Each group has a central recreation/relaxation spot, or perhaps a garden with kitchen vegetables available to whomever needs them. There is a common parking area: this isn’t big enough for all the cars, but so far this has not caused problems. The community holds traditional fairs, and residents take care of each other’s houses, children, and grandchildren. Rules of community life are written down, but no one has to memorize them, as they all understand that the primary rule is to be generous. Having
a secure home makes both family and work life more secure. The living situation and quality of life are better in this community. It has built its own dignified way of life, and stands as an example for other communities to study and follow.