Creating Sustainable Future of Mae Kha Canal in Chiang Mai, Thailand


Analysis & Planning

Baton Rouge, LA, USA | Sunantana Nuanla-or, Student ASLA | Graduate | Faculty Advisor: M. Austin Allen, ASLA
Louisiana State University


Having roles as a city guardian, cultural features, and irrigation system, Mae Kha Canal was one of the most important components of Chiang Mai water system. Unfortunately, the unregulated growth due to a rapid urbanization since 1985 has caused the canal to suffer with massive amounts of pollution. As a consequence, the city turns its back on the canal, and makes it a dumping site. This project provides a comprehensive study and thoroughly analysis in historical, environmental, and planning aspects. The proposal aims to revitalize the image as well as reestablish a relationship between people and nature. In order to achieve a sustainable development of Chiang Mai, three water treatment methods are proposed in accordance with the existing land use planning aiming to create a linear park framework along the canal. Moreover, a landscape urban infrastructure is proposed to be a pilot project of wetland water treatment. The design demonstrates the strong capability of landscape intervention that can resolve the severe problems of water quality and bring about quality of life.


Chiang Mai is the most significant city in northern region of Thailand. The city is greatly benefited from freshwater sources that originate from national park. These water sources flow to the south and nourish the center of Thailand. Overall Chiang Mai water systems are in good condition except for Mae Kha Canal. The canal was excavated as a second layer protection from flooding when the city was established in 1296. In the present, the canal is heavily contaminated from sewage and city drainage, especially when it flows through urban areas. Because of the city’s expansion, and internal migration, communities along the banks have grown and occupied the canal, which make Mae Kha Canal narrower. Moreover, deforestation and poor sewage management create more degradation, thus the canal is unable to perform ecological and recreational function.

To help mitigate the issue of water pollution, this project focuses on Mae Kha Canal, the most degraded urban canal in the North, with the aim of creating a sustainable future for the degraded urban canal. It aims to promote ecological and sustainable approach in improving water quality in Mae Kha Canal. In an urban scale, it suggests a Green Corridor along the canal where people can interact with nature and enjoy recreation spaces. it intends to promote a stewardship program that encourages participation of communities, government, organizations, stakeholders and private sectors in coordination to Mae Kha Canal development. In a site scale, it proposes a landscape infrastructure of an urban wetland park in the North of Thailand that integrates ecological processes and recreation spaces. As a pilot project of wetland water treatment, the infrastructure will demonstrate and help educate people to learn how to purify water by using ecological methods and the benefits of long- term maintenance and development. Moreover it will articulate Mae Kha Canal’s historical significance and culturally rich in order to encourage a sense of preservation and respect.

Prior to a design phase, the city, land use planning, water system, and the canal were examined from document analysis, site observation, and interview. According to document analysis, there two main urgent problems of Mae Kha Canal: water quality and lack of management. Water quality data from Chiang Mai University illustrates that the canal starts to be heavily polluted at the highway and getting worse as it flows south. Thus, the studied area focuses on the three-mile canal that runs through the urban area. In this area, the water is classified as type 5 which can only be used for navigation. After the site has been defined, the context, regulation, and existing conditions have been studied. The existing land use determines 3 design phases: local commercial mixed use to the north, tourist aimed business in the center, and local community to the south. In each phases, this study proposes to develop commercial nodes and park nodes that respond to local activities and property rights.

During the study process, municipality, local architects “Khon Jai Baan”, and researchers at Chiang Mai University were interviewed. The interview discloses the water quality problems that caused by sewage discharge, property rights violation, and inefficient water treatment. Besides water quality, there are also problems in management as evidence in the abandonment of the canal. This neglecting is clearly acknowledged from, on-site observation. It illustrates that because of the canal’s poor physical conditions and dirty water, the city has turned its back to the canal. There is no awareness of canal’s existing when asked the localities and insufficient effort from municipality to bring back its life. The evaluation shows that in order to improve the social value of the canal, the project should be disseminated with water treatment guidelines and landscape infrastructure that enhance the relationship between people and the canal. Therefore, the showcase was arranged at the end of the proposal to publicize value of Mae Kha and educate the sustainable development strategy for the involved parties, especially local communities.

In order to improve water quality, this proposal suggests 4 treatment points along with 3 water treatment strategies: wetland treatment, urban treatment, and household treatment. The new proposal of Mae Kha canal promotes diverse of vegetation along the canal to increase the corridor’s biodiversity, purify water and create urban runoff filtration. This will add wildlife habitats and promote pedestrian linkage that boost local businesses along the canal.

Additionally, one of the treatment points is selected and developed to demonstrate a site design for landscape infrastructure as a focal point of the Green Corridor. After the physical conditions of Mae Kha Canal were evaluated in relation to land use context, the site is chosen because it locates at the intersection between Green Link of City Moat, Mae Kha Canal, and Ping River, and Green Corridor of Mae Kha Canal. Furthermore, it has high potential due to its property rights along with its proximity to municipality and tourist attractions. This landscape infrastructure features a stormwater treatment wetland park that includes water treatment facilities such as oil trap, sediment pond, water cascade, and natural wetland. Moreover, since the design aims to achieve a sustainable development that embrace culture and nature, encourage social participation and local economy, the site proposed Chiang Mai Water Museum, community center, Mae Kha Boat tour, and recreation area.

Afterall, the study and the proposal were disseminated at municipality headquarter. It was showcased on April 08, 2016 in the 720th anniversary of Chiang Mai City. Giving a presentation by a head researcher of civil engineering natural disaster research unit, Chiang Mai University. With over 200 participants from multi stakeholders, this study has been publicized and hopefully will be fully implemented in many levels.

“Far from being constrained by a one-size-fits-all approach, this project offered specific responses for different areas. An obvious strength was that the team took a close look at nodes and corridors. You can use a project like this to turn around the public’s thinking and that of decision makers.”

- 2016 Awards Jury


Thesis Committee Members

  • Professor Diane Jones Allen, ASLA
  • Dr. Manop Kaewmoracharoen, Faculty at Civil engineering Chiang Mai University
  • Ms. Ekpanith Naknakorn, Landscape Designer and Founder of Dream Action

CENDRU : Civil Engineering Chiang Mai University Natural Disasters Research Unit

  • Dr. Chuchoke Aryupong, CENDRU Director

Kon Jai Baan Group : Local Community Architects

  • Ms. Praewponn Sukutsathian, Site Research and Coordinator
  • Mr. Thanawin Wijitporn, Site Research and Survey Guide

Additional Credits

  • Dr. Danai Thaitakoo, Faculty at Chulalongkorn University
  • Ms. Christie Mettes, Site Research, University of Utrecht
  • Ms. Massawee Thaweepworadej, Site Research and CAD-Data
  • Ms. Jidapa Chayakul, Consultant
  • Ms. Pamanee Chaiwat, Consultant