Announcing: Walsh, John and Petcharat Lovichakorntikul, “Prospects and Challenges for Eco-Towns in Thailand,” paper presented at the International Conference on Sustainable Development and Environment Participation (Zhejiang University: June 20th-22nd, 2014).
Special economic zones (SEZs) link places of production and consumption through the various forms of connectivity: hard and soft infrastructure; virtual links and inter-personal and inter-organizational connections. SEZs exist outside the normal rule of law in that privileges exist for investors freeing them from certain obligations so as to encourage them to locate economic activities there. Yet SEZs can still share physical space with neighbouring communities that also confer additional responsibilities in terms of environmental impact. In the case of Map Ta Phut industrial estate in Thailand, for example, local communities provide labour for factories that are involved in heavy industries that produce goods not directly used in those local communities, even though they have been subject to negative environmental impacts for several decades. To try to harmonize two-way flows across the borders of SEZs in the country, the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT) has announced a new concept, the eco-industrial town, which is intended to unite estate and community according to 22 identified characteristics and the five dimensions that balance economy, nature, physical estate environment, society and management. No satisfactory example of this concept currently exists and some critics have complained that the substantial marketing budget that has been deployed to promote the idea is mainly aimed at convincing people that they need no longer worry about contamination or industrial accident. At a time when the Thai government can scarcely afford more loss of investor confidence after the closure of industrial estates by the 2011 floods and the continuing political disturbances, it is evident that the eco-industrial town could be a significant asset in its developmental strategy. This raises the questions of which other exceptional spaces now offer or have offered partial examples of what might be achieved in Thailand, what an eco-industrial town might look like in practice and how the interactions between factories and communities and the links between them would be structured. This paper seeks to answer these questions by examining case studies of relevant examples of exceptional spaces in Thailand and beyond.