If cities are the cradle of participatory democracy, Bangkok is one of many appropriate locations in the world to observe the relationship between urban mobilization and change. During the 20th century, Bangkok evolved from a low-density, rural town into the largest city in Thailand and one of the world’s fastest growing megacities of the Global South. In response to the challenges of rapid urbanization, Bangkok was the first city in Thailand to experiment with self-government policies that redefine the role, responsibilities and institutions of local government. That initiative increased possibilities of participation, thus suggesting that the locality could be the platform for regeneration of democracy. In pursuing this approach, Bangkok’s local government and planners drew upon key concepts and systems from developed countries. However, with its own unique historical legacy and complex socio-political context, planning and governance in Bangkok has evolved in a very different way. This research examines Bangkok’s urban transformation from the 19th century to the present, paying particular attention to the relationship between urban politics and urban policies as well as the development of civil society, local government and the state.