From MIT to BMA: how new governor Chadchart is turning Bangkok into a ‘smart’ city
Harnessing digital technology to solve problems is one of the things that sets Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt’s administration apart from his predecessors. As a graduate of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the newly elected governor apparently trusts that tech solutions will make a big difference.
Aside from promoting the Traffy Fondue complaints-receiving application, Chadchart is pressing ahead with “Open Bangkok Data” and various other tech innovations in hope of delivering better quality of life for the 10 million people who live in Thailand’s capital.
Open Bangkok Data
Relying on data-gathering technology, this initiative aims to foster citizen participation in city development, conflict reduction, and transparency. The idea is to make relevant, quality data about Bangkok available through digital platforms, handing the public a powerful tool to monitor and help shape city development.
For example, Open Bangkok Data will lift the lid on Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA)’s ongoing procurement projects. Such disclosure looks set to raise transparency, accountability, and budget efficiency. Open Bangkok Data also offers information on accident sites around Bangkok as well as the capital’s air quality. Relevant authorities – or anyone with good ideas – can then roll out or recommend solutions.
“We need to build a great database because it will lead to sustainable development in various dimensions,” Chadchart said.
Deputy Bangkok Governor Sanon Wangsrangboon, who like Chadchart has a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Chulalongkorn University, has been tasked with leading efforts to build the Open Bangkok Data project.
The plan is to identify data sets and protocol standards, before making the information public. The first sets of data released will cover crime and accident blackspots, allowing BMA and others to find data-driven solutions.
“Eventually, we will display problems on a digital Bangkok map. Those problems will become so clear that relevant authorities won’t be able to ignore them,” Chadchart said.
He also wants experts in various fields to get involved, chewing over the easily digested data in search of solutions that can boost quality of life in the capital.
“I believe that answers to existing problems are out there somewhere. We just need to make connections with capable people so that we can deliver solutions at a faster speed. We won’t need to start from scratch [this way]”, he said of his idea.
Under his instruction, Sanon will sit down with the Digital Government Development Agency and others to ensure the Open Bangkok Data initiative moves ahead quickly.
Volunteers will also contribute to Open Bangkok Data by gathering relevant information. Rocket Media Lab, meanwhile, will help process the data into easy-to-understand formats for public consumption. And Change.org will join the initiative by displaying data to engage the public in shaping policies for Bangkok.
Several other cities around the world, most notably the Spanish capital Madrid, are already utilizing open data for their development.
Recognizing that not everyone is technology-savvy, Chadchart has decided to develop a network of tech volunteers to support Bangkokians who have difficulty following tech trends, such as the elderly.
Official records show at least one million Bangkokians are over 60. Today, tech knowledge is a must for people who need to access state welfare, including various co-payment subsidy schemes, and also business opportunities.
With support from tech volunteers, who will likely hail from the new generation, digitally illiterate Bangkokians won’t miss out on the welfare they are eligible to receive. Meanwhile, elderly people selling traditional products may be able to reach a bigger market via digital platforms, with help from Chadchart’s network of technology volunteers.
Launched in 2018, this Thai app began making headlines after Chadchart was elected as Bangkok governor. As soon as he took office, Chadchart urged the public to use Traffy Fondue to report everyday problems so they could be fixed by authorities.
Traffy Fondue has many strengths. Free to use, it allows people to file complaints anonymously without providing personal data like name or telephone number. Complainants are also informed when the problems are solved.
Before Chadchart began promoting the app, Bangkok district offices received just about 1,300 complaints via Traffy Fondue. However, from May 29 to June 10, complaints have risen by 13-fold to 17,811. Many users of Traffy Fondue have praised the online platform for efficiency and rapid problem-solving.
Under Chadchart’s leadership, BMA also intends to add a “corruption” category to Traffy Fondue.
The new governor has announced he will evaluate each district office based partly on their response to complaints.
App for greener Bangkok
Chadchart also plans to deploy technology to fulfill his policy of planting one million trees in the capital and giving Bangkokians more green spaces to enjoy.
For example, he has encouraged the public and businesses to reserve free seedlings handed out by the BMA as soon as they find spots to plant trees. Participants in the scheme will also be required to monitor the growth of their trees and take photos of them to display on the app.
“We have found that trees planted previously [in the capital] often wither because they do not get proper care. So, we will engage the private sector in helping with tree planting this time. They can get free seedlings to plant at their premises but they must take care of these plants,” Chadchart explained.
He said the initiative would allow BMA to earn income by selling carbon credits too.
Furthermore, Chadchart is deploying open-source technology to locate all the public green space Bangkok has to offer. He has asked city residents to pin locations of parks to online maps so as to raise public awareness of available green space.
One of Chadchart’s election policies was to ensure all Bangkokians have a public park within a 15-minute walk of their home.
“Locations of public parks will become open data,” the governor explained.
Bangkok’s ‘digital twin’
Chadchart has long planned to create a virtual Bangkok, or digital twin using aerial photographs, Lidar 3D laser imaging, maps of underground utilities, and geospatial data. Integrating these different types of data will make it possible to create a three-dimensional digital Bangkok.
This digital twin should make it easier and quicker to make decisions for more efficient city management.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk