Unseeing Chinatown: Universal Zoning, Planning Abstraction and Space of Difference


The article investigates the technical rationality behind Bangkok’s recent land use zoning plans. It does so through the example of Chinatown. The plans, intended to promote urban sustainability, introduce zoning techniques such as (1) land use subcategorization to hierarchize urban districts, and (2) density zoning to encourage intensive development around transit stations. The case of Chinatown foregrounds the discussion in this article, which then, in turn, explores the two zoning techniques. I argue that both techniques are formulated through a functionalist rationality, and thus omit place-specific conditions of land, such as local practices, histories and land tenure. Worse yet, the landed elite uses them to justify displacement and eviction. The article theorizes Chinatown as a space of difference, pointing to particularities that are unseen and thus at risk of being unmade by what is often passed off as technical expertise.