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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Local knowledge in physical design and planning : a case study of Chiangmai, Thailand Vadhanasindhu, Pongsak


This study concerns “local knowledge” - the knowledge of local people - and the role it can play in improving development projects. The study adds to previous definitions of local knowledge, describes how Thai designers and planners treat this knowledge, and illustrates the consequences of including or excluding its consideration in planning development projects. The research approach is a case study of design and planning in Chiangmai, a province in northern Thailand. Both primary data and secondary data were collected and analyzed. Primary sources were personal observations, individual interviews and focus group discussions. Secondary sources included others’ studies of architectural knowledge and planning reports. The existing literature, including literature in local knowledge, planning, citizen participation and social impact assessment, is still grappling with the issue of local knowledge and its inclusion or exclusion in development project planning. The study found that local people have a powerful base of information that is potentially valuable to the design and planning of development projects. Local knowledge can be technical, descriptive, explanatory, prescriptive, subtle, dynamic, scattered and holistic. An often ignored form of local knowledge is local people’s perceptions and values which have been made explicit through the impact that development projects have had on their social organization, their economy and their natural environment. Although the knowledge held by local people could provide real benefit to the design and planning professions, it has been overlooked by many professionals who have a limited awareness of the richness and value of local knowledge. The study found that awareness and use of local knowledge are affected by professional training and by planning procedures. This thesis concludes that for local knowledge to be appropriately and effectively involved in design and planning, procedures need to be restructured to require or encourage professionals to actively seek local knowledge, to respect this knowledge and its owners, and to include this knowledge in their professional work through consultation with local people. In order for this restructuring to be effective, design and planning education must include opportunities for students to learn how to gain and apply local knowledge in a respectful manner.

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