Global-South city case studies


In the dynamic landscape of the “Global South,” cities are at the forefront of rapid urbanization, presenting both opportunities and challenges for sustainable development. Recognizing the urgency of addressing these issues, a consortium of experts and practitioners has embarked on a groundbreaking initiative to assess the nexus between urbanization and sustainability across diverse cities. From Neuquen to Bangkok, each territory has been selected as a case study to evaluate SDG indicators and tools, shedding light on the intricate relationship between urban growth and sustainability dimensions. In this exploration, we delve into the unique urban trajectory of Bangkok, Thailand’s vibrant capital, and examine its journey towards achieving sustainable development goals by 2030.

Bangkok urbanization pattern

Bangkok urbanization pattern map from 1980-2020 Sources: Google earth engine

In the face of rapid urbanization in the “Global South,” cities like Bangkok are grappling with a host of challenges including informal settlements, traffic congestion, and environmental degradation, hindering their transition to a green, digital, and equitable future. Decision-makers, planners, and citizens are navigating the intersection of project design, governance, and long-term sustainability goals outlined in the SDGs and global urban agendas. However, the pace of urban development often outpaces planning efforts, leading to mismatches between market demands and sustainability objectives. Fragmented governance structures exacerbate these challenges.

A recent workshop explored tools and methodologies for analyzing Bangkok’s urban landscape within the 2030 UN Agenda. As a case study, Bangkok’s urban trajectory showcases complexities, with its designation as the world’s most visited city in 2023 exacerbating strain on resources and infrastructure. Urbanization patterns reveal growth concentrated in the eastern part of the city, leading to disparities in job opportunities and housing accessibility. Traffic congestion and inadequate infrastructure pose significant challenges. Despite efforts to revise urban planning policies like the Comprehensive Plan 2013, challenges persist, calling for a more agile and responsive approach to urban governance.

Bangkok comprehensive plan (Land use plan)

Bangkok comprehensive plan 2013

Despite administrative efforts to revise urban planning policies, such as the Comprehensive Plan 2013, challenges persist, necessitating a more agile and responsive approach to urban governance. The Comprehensive Plan 2013, announced a decade ago, served as a blueprint for Bangkok’s development, but its relevance has waned in the face of rapid urbanization and evolving urban challenges. Designed to guide the city’s growth and development, the plan outlined strategies for addressing issues such as population growth, infrastructure development, and environmental sustainability. However, the dynamic nature of urbanization has outpaced the plan’s capacity to adapt, highlighting the need for a more flexible and forward-thinking approach to urban planning. As Bangkok grapples with issues such as:

  • Rapid urbanization leading to strain on infrastructure and services
  • Traffic congestion and inadequate public transportation
  • Housing affordability and availability issues
  • Environmental degradation, including air pollution and waste management
  • Disparities in economic opportunities and income inequality
  • Pressure on natural resources and water management
  • Vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change impacts
  • Governance and planning challenges, including outdated urban planning frameworks
  • Social issues such as informal settlements and social exclusion
  • Balancing tourism growth with local residents’ needs and sustainability concerns

stakeholders are advocating for the revision of the Comprehensive Plan to better reflect the city’s current needs and aspirations. Through collaborative efforts and stakeholder engagement, Bangkok aims to develop a revised urban planning framework that is responsive to the city’s evolving dynamics and conducive to sustainable development.

History of urban planning policy

The timeline of urban planning in Bangkok dates back to 1888 when the Department of Town Planning was established. Since then, the city has undergone various phases of development, with each period presenting its unique set of challenges and opportunities. Early efforts, such as the Lichfield Plan in the late 19th century, were influenced by Western urban planning principles and collaborations with international organizations. However, Bangkok’s urban landscape has continuously evolved, marked by significant events such as economic crises, mega flooding events, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these challenges, urban planning has remained instrumental in guiding the city’s growth and development.

Fast forward to the present, Bangkok finds itself at a critical juncture, grappling with the complexities of rapid urbanization and the need for sustainable development. The current Comprehensive Plan, announced in 2013, served as a guiding framework for the city’s development over the past decade. However, its relevance has diminished in light of emerging urban challenges and shifting socio-economic dynamics. As Bangkok confronts issues such as traffic congestion, environmental degradation, and housing affordability, there is a growing recognition of the need for a more responsive and adaptable approach to urban planning.

Looking ahead, the Thai government has articulated a vision for decentralized planning, with initiatives such as the National Development Plan 2037 aiming to empower local administrations in driving sustainable urban development. Through these efforts, Bangkok seeks to align its urban trajectory with national objectives while addressing the aspirations and needs of its diverse population. As the city navigates the complexities of urbanization, the evolution of its urban planning framework will play a crucial role in shaping its future trajectory towards sustainability and resilience.

Policy structure

Thai government has introduced a hierarchical approach to governance and policymaking. At the national level, the National Development Plan 2037 sets out overarching goals and objectives for the country’s development, with a vision to achieve Thailand 4.0 status. This long-term plan aims to guide the nation towards becoming a developed country while embracing digital transformation and innovation. To operationalize these objectives, power is decentralized to individual ministries, each tasked with formulating policies and regulations aligned with the national plan.

Within this decentralized structure, ministries such as town planning, environment, transportation, and economic development play key roles in shaping urban development policies and initiatives. By aligning their efforts with the overarching national agenda, these ministries seek to address the diverse needs and challenges of urbanization in Bangkok. Furthermore, authority is devolved to local administrations, such as the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, which are empowered to develop and implement comprehensive plans tailored to the city’s specific context.

This hierarchical approach aims to streamline decision-making processes and enhance coordination across different levels of government. By aligning policies and initiatives with the national development agenda, Bangkok endeavors to achieve sustainable urban development while fostering local autonomy and resilience. As the city navigates the complexities of urbanization, this hierarchical structure provides a framework for collaborative governance and inclusive decision-making, ensuring that the needs and aspirations of its residents are effectively addressed.

SDGs Initiatives

Selected SDGs initiatives to evaluate Bangkok urbanization

In this context, the integration of SDG initiatives has emerged as a critical pathway towards sustainability. By aligning with targets such as quality education (SDG 4), sustainable cities (SDG 11), and economic growth (SDG 8), Bangkok seeks to address pressing challenges while advancing its vision for a resilient and inclusive urban future.

As Bangkok navigates the complexities of urbanization, the workshop underscores the importance of collaborative, data-driven approaches to urban planning. By harnessing the insights gleaned from the workshop, stakeholders can chart a course towards a more sustainable and equitable Bangkok by 2030, ensuring that the city’s development trajectory aligns with the aspirations of its diverse population.


Density and Population of Bangkok
Land and property price in Bangkok
Transportation in Bangkok
Public facilities in Bangkok
Heatmap analysis of Bangkok urbanization


Rapid urbanization and housing inequality challenges in Bangkok

In Bangkok, housing inequality exacerbates socioeconomic disparities, compelling many residents to seek affordable housing options in suburban areas. The city’s rapid urbanization and limited urban planning have led to inflated property prices in central districts, making it increasingly unaffordable for low and middle-income individuals to reside in these areas. Consequently, many are forced to relocate to suburban neighborhoods where housing costs are lower, albeit often lacking in essential infrastructure and amenities. This phenomenon not only strains transportation networks as individuals commute to central business districts for work but also exacerbates gentrification pressures in these outlying areas. As demand for housing in suburban areas increases, property developers capitalize on this trend, driving up prices and displacing existing communities. The resulting socioeconomic fragmentation and spatial segregation underscore the urgent need for comprehensive housing policies that prioritize affordability and inclusivity while mitigating the adverse effects of urbanization and gentrification in Bangkok.

Transportation challenges in Bangkok

Challenges initiatives

Bangkok grapples with a glaring deficiency in its public transportation system, exacerbating issues of urban mobility and social inequality. The city’s reliance on cars is compounded by the prevalence of superblocks, large-scale developments that prioritize vehicular traffic over pedestrian accessibility. As a result, navigating Bangkok’s congested streets often proves cumbersome and time-consuming, particularly for those reliant on public transportation. While the city boasts a network of buses, trains, and boats, these modes of transit struggle to compete with the convenience and perceived speed of private vehicles. Moreover, the cost disparity between private and public transportation further marginalizes low-income individuals, who may find it more economical to own a car than to rely on public transit. Consequently, the lack of an efficient and accessible public transportation system perpetuates social inequalities, limiting mobility options and exacerbating traffic congestion and environmental pollution in Bangkok.

Current initiatives

As Bangkok grapples with the main challenges of rapid urbanization and traffic congestion, leading to its status as one of the most traffic-jammed cities globally, the government has taken significant steps to address these issues. Through a top-down approach, initiatives have been launched to tackle traffic congestion and improve public transportation access. This includes the development of new public transportation systems and road projects aimed at alleviating congestion and expanding coverage to underserved areas. Additionally, efforts to reduce housing inequality through affordable housing projects aim to lessen the need for low-income residents to commute into the city for work, thereby reducing transportation demand.

However, the top-down approach requires substantial investment and time, while challenges persist. In response, local operators, private sectors, and citizens have taken a bottom-up approach to address these challenges. Initiatives such as micro-mobility transportation systems, including motorbike taxis, public vans, public boats, and tuk-tuks, unique to Bangkok, have emerged to provide alternative transportation options. Additionally, the academic sector has played a crucial role by serving as a platform for collaboration between the government and citizens. Academics facilitate discussions and solutions to address challenges, advocating for government support for bottom-up initiatives such as standardizing and regulating micro-mobility systems provided by private companies and local operators. Through a combination of top-down and bottom-up approaches, Bangkok aims to effectively address its urban challenges and improve the quality of life for its residents.


Bangkok development stakeholder flowchart

For the stakeholder flowchart, sectors are divided into quadrants based on their power and influence. The government, possessing the highest power, plays a pivotal role in incorporating sustainable perspectives into policies at both the national and city levels. In Bangkok, the government takes the lead in initiating urban planning policies that address sustainable development challenges, particularly focusing on housing inequality and transportation issues.

Private sectors and local operators, while wielding significant influence, work within the framework set by government policies and regulations. They provide essential services and systems such as micro-mobility or affordable housing, ensuring compliance with SDGs indicators and continuously improving the quality of their offerings.

The education sector, despite having relatively low power, serves as a critical hub for studying, evaluating, and influencing sustainable policies. It acts as a central point of collaboration across sectors, driving sustainability into various programs and initiatives.

Local people and citizens, with the highest influence on government policy, possess the right to utilize services, evaluate policies, and advocate for sustainable issues to be incorporated into policy-making processes. Their voices play a crucial role in shaping the direction of sustainable development efforts in Bangkok.


What have we learned about Bangkok?

  • Lack of policy focus on quality public facilities: The city faces challenges in prioritizing the quality of public amenities such as education, healthcare, and green spaces over mere quantity, necessitating a shift in urban development strategies.
  • Urgent need for reliable data collection: Bangkok requires improved data collection methods to inform decision-making processes effectively and ensure the efficient allocation of resources for sustainable development.
  • Urban expansion and traffic congestion: While the city expands rapidly towards the eastern side and peripheral areas, limited development and connectivity on the western side exacerbate traffic congestion, particularly in crucial transportation corridors.

What have we learned about the tools?

  • Valuable insights from analysis tools: Tools provide crucial insights into the city’s realities and planning strategies, offering valuable guidance for urban development initiatives.
  • Gap in aligning indicators with SDG targets: Despite the utility of these tools, there remains a disconnect between local indicators and global SDG targets, with a tendency to prioritize economic and infrastructure development over broader sustainability goals.
  • Evolution of data collection methods: To address these gaps, there’s a need for data collection methods to evolve, incorporating more coordinate-based data to enable targeted policy implementation and evaluation.

Recommendations for Bangkok?

  • Integrated approach to urban development: Adopt a holistic approach that combines top-down policies with bottom-up initiatives to address infrastructural challenges while fostering community-driven interventions.
  • Enhancing transportation infrastructure: Integrate public transportation and micro-mobility plans based on population data and demand forecasts, especially in suburban and western areas, to alleviate traffic congestion and improve connectivity.
  • Adaptation of SDG indicators: Align local planning decisions with broader sustainable development goals by adapting SDG indicators based on available government data, facilitating a more comprehensive and effective urban development strategy.
Future Bangkok 2030


1. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration กรุงเทพมหานคร (
2. Bangkok open data Welcome – Open Government Data of Bangkok
3. UDDC Urban Design and Development Center | Thailand (
4. Openstreetmap
5. Google earth engine Google Earth Engine