Embracing digital-based urban development
Concerned about the impacts of rapidly urbanizing communities, some municipalities in Thailand are shaping their future development to provide new opportunities for local populations and coming up with solutions to better manage their urban development pathways.
Under the strategic plan of the Office of National Higher Education Science Research and Innovation Policy Council (NXPO)’s Program Management Unit on Area Based Development (PMU-A), three towns in Chiang Mai, Phuket and Rayong provinces have been chosen as models for new management systems through the adoption of smart technologies and innovations.
Thanks to Mayor Tanawat Yodjai, Mae Hia Municipality has already made a significant change, moving the area forward through digital transformation with the goal of becoming a smart city certified by the Digital Economy Promotion Agency (depa)
Fully aware of the importance of building a database on a cloud platform, Tanawat introduced the new management system back in 2015. Today, Mae Hia Municipality has successfully digitized most of its services, allowing more convenient access to a broad spectrum of public services. These include a One-Stop Service that enables people to submit complaints and monitor the progress of complaint resolution, apply online for building permission for a house not exceeding 150sqm thus reducing the approval process from 45 days to only two hours, and make an online waste payment.
In addition, the municipality has developed the Quantum GIS (QGIS) application as its powerful city data platform for urban development planning and regularly updates such data as land utilization, healthcare services and NCD patients, village health volunteers, hazardous and infectious waste, and even pets.
“We’re currently at the Mae Hia 3.0 stage. Our goal is to transform the city into a seamless municipality based on a peer-to-peer network with the deployment of blockchain technology for effective urban development across all dimensions. From an online system via a website, Mae Hia has the ambition to develop a super app platform in the future, ensuring public services are available around the clock,” Tanawat explained.
Dr. Kitti Satjawattana, Director of the PMU-A, said that PMU-A has supported Mae Hia Municipality’s digital transformation since 2019 through funding provided to Chiang Mai University for research and innovation, which will play a key role in driving community development.
This has allowed Mae Hia to launch various initiatives such as 3D Mapping, a Covid–free city platform to monitor, prevent and control the spread of Covid-19, the weSAFE@Home platform to provide care for those with Covid in home isolation and community isolation, and a City Data platform.
Dr. Kitti explained that Mae Hia has been designated as a sandbox for Web 3.0 urban development, allowing stakeholders and even local startups to find the right solution. Blockchain has been adopted on a trial basis to create new opportunities including the metaverse. With urban areas having different contexts in terms of economic, social, environmental and cultural needs, local data is a powerful tool that enables each community to manage urbanization effectively. A strong knowledge base and innovations, as well as the engagement of local people, will be crucial factors in sustainable urban development.
In addition to the city development platform and enhancement of digital skills, PMU-A also supported research funding for the Mae Hia Green City and Smart Travel Trail projects. Meanwhile, PMU-A has supported towns including Mae Hia to establish urban development companies formed by the municipality, local private investors and academics.
“So far, there are 19 urban development companies in all regions who conduct business in the form of social enterprises. Our key goal is to create a growth engine in urban areas, which will create an evolving economy and new investment opportunities. It will be a mechanism to boost both local GDP growth and income distribution,” Dr. Kitti said.
PMU-A expects that the three pilot municipalities will become a driving force for the faster adaptation of other local administrative organizations at the district and sub-district levels. Well–managed urban development and appropriate infrastructure investments could strengthen the towns, making them more conducive to economic growth, social inclusion, and becoming more environmentally sustainable and resilient to climate change.
By Veena Thoopkrajae with an additional report by Patcharee Luenguthai