Thailand’s Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai has unveiled a plan to push the country’s technological development into a new age this week, with plans to have 105 Thai cities classified as ‘smart’ by 2027.
These smart cities are a core part of the country’s 13th national economic and social development plan, says Phumtham, speaking in his capacity as deputy prime minister in charge of the economy. The plan aims to develop smart city solutions in seven key areas: telecoms, energy, living, industry and retail, mobility, environment, and healthcare.
These cities will utilise new and existing technologies to upgrade their residents’ quality of life, while also providing the city with comprehensive data used to guide infrastructural decisions.
So far, 36 municipalities in 25 provinces of Thailand have been certified as smart cities. This means that at least 17 more cities will need to be upgraded each year to meet the government’s goals.
To achieve this, Thailand’s Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA) is working alongside their Board of Investment on luring investment to speed up smart-city development. The measures being taken to promote this investment include a 50% cut in corporate tax for three years, as well as making the cost of goods or services businesses procure via smart-city digital platforms 100% tax-deductible.
However, Thailand isn’t taking a wholly technology-driven approach to their smart city strategy. Speaking to GovInsider, Dr Non Arkara, Senior Expert of the Smart City Promotion Department at DEPA, shared how the agency’s smart city promotion strategy has evolved significantly from being technology-driven to focusing on human-centric design.
“Too often, new smart cities are designed in a top-down manner with fancy technologies but minimal citizen engagement. We asked, ‘What if we could…?’ and flipped the script,” he said.
Four key shifts in DEPA’s smart nation strategy include tapping into public-private-people partnerships for diverse expertise and resources; using digital platforms to enable data-driven governance and planning; promoting citizen participatory processes; and localising sustainable solutions to individual cities instead of duplicating external models.
One example that Dr Arkara speaks of is the Nakhon Si Thammarat municipality in Southern Thailand. They independently developed and deployed an app called “My City” where citizens could report clogged stormwater drains that were contributing to the city’s flooding problems during the rainy season. By combining the data gathered from the app with their own analytics, the city’s public officials were able to identify the root causes of the flooding and create targeted infrastructure upgrades that solved them.
Due to its success, the app has since been expanded to other municipalities across the country, and DEPA aims to scale it to more than 700 of them by 2027. Since its deployment, the app has also added a range of useful new features, allowing users to report more civic issues, track the status of their reports, and access other government services like pet registration.
Dr Arkara does note that smart city innovation cannot rely only on citizen inputs. There is a need to “look beyond what the people are explicitly asking for,” as “citizens likely cannot envision how exponential technologies like AI, blockchain, IoT and robotics transform city life over the next decade. Thus, our role as innovators is to not just take citizen feedback at face value, but envision possibilities they never thought to ask for.”
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