By Petcharee Somwong
Petra Mahira is a 23-year-old recent graduate of Chulalongkorn University. She majored in English and also studied literature and history. Outside of the classroom, she’s a vocal critic of her university. She also plans to become a professor in art history.
Petra has a YouTube channel, “pannitsvlog.” Her Twitter account @whybadguy has over 28,000 followers. She frequently tweets about political and social issues. She was also among the speakers in the pro-democracy demonstration at Chulalongkorn University.
Even though she has graduated, Petra continues to take up the cause against the gentrification of Chulalongkorn’s properties by Property Management of Chulalongkorn University (PMCU).
According to Petra, PMCU plans to gentrify several sites in Samyan and Pathumwan districts with condominiums and department stores. She said PMCU wants to remove Chao Mae Tubtim Shrine Saphan Luang, a sacred place with a long history in the Saphan Luang community.
The plan is to rebuild the shrine at Chulalongkorn University’s Centenary Park instead.
Why are you against PMCU’s plan?
PMCU claims that its mission is to create a space that provides opportunities for all people and is a part of the community and society.
But its attempt to demolish the shrine shows that this isn’t so. Tubtim Shrine represents the lives and history of the people of the Samyan community. Many of whom have been forced to move out.
Meanwhile, Chula keeps developing properties on behalf of capitalists. There are so many malls now, but what happened to the local stores?
Wouldn’t these developments contribute to local economic growth?
With all these condominiums and malls built, residents can no longer afford to live here. It only benefits people with money, while the poor suffer.
But the properties belong to Chula, does PMCU not have the right to its plan?
Chula indeed has the right to ownership. But I do not believe demolishing the life and livelihood of residents and destroying buildings and sites that have been a part of the community for the sake of development is the right answer.
Chula claims that it is a leading university equipped with interdisciplinary experts, so why not develop a better, healthier, and more empathetic solution?
Gentrification or vertical urban development are not always the answer. Yes, Chula should be able to develop its properties. But the key is to do so while keeping the community intact and protecting the history and heritage.
Wouldn’t the students benefit from the development?
In my opinion, Chula students do not need more fancy condominiums. We need more in-campus dorms. We need more libraries that allow students to study after dark. We need our university to coexist with the surrounding communities.
What’s your opinion of Chulalongkorn University?
When I was in high school, I thought Chula was a prestigious institution that students are proud of, a leading university. But as time went by, my image of Chula became clear. This is definitely not the university we are proud of, or that we should call the pillar of the kingdom.