Smarten up 'smart cities'
The decision by the Prayut Chan-o-cha government to participate in the "Smart Green Asean Cities" project sounds like great news.
A regional project jointly coordinated by the European Union (EU) and Asean, the Smart Green Asean Cities framework aims to support sustainable urbanisation in the Asean region, reduce the environmental footprint of urban areas and improve the quality of life of residents.
According to deputy government spokeswoman Rachada Dhnadirek, under the framework, the EU would provide funding -- totalling 5 million euros (about 180 million baht) -- to selected Asean cities to develop smart, sustainable and environmentally friendly urban areas. The project is tentatively scheduled to start at the end of the year and will be reviewed after six years. Participation is currently limited to Asean member countries, namely Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei, Singapore and Vietnam.
Thailand will benefit from the EU's experiences in urban waste management, which will in turn bring the country closer towards being a circular economy and curbing climate change.
"This cooperation is in line with the government's policy to develop Thailand's cities into smart and sustainable urban areas. This framework will lead to capacity building and the sharing of best practices which can lead to improvements in urban residents' quality of life," said Ms Rachada.
The framework comprises three major actions: the promotion and enhancement of city planning capabilities which incorporate environmentally friendly and sustainable solutions; the sharing of best practices and knowledge between EU and Asean partners; and official exchange programmes on environmental management and smart cities.
At this stage, it remains unknown which cities or provinces are to be enlisted in the project. But the choices are quite obvious, given the state's enthusiasm about the smart city idea.
A panel, the National Steering Committee on Smart City Development, with Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon as its chairman, is dealing with the matter. Last month, the Digital Economy Promotion Agency (Depa), a state organisation, together with its partners, held Thailand Smart City Week 2020 showcasing digital technologies to steer people-centric smart city development.
Initially, the government targets seven towns/cities as smart cities, with three -- namely Chachoengsao, Chon Buri and Rayong -- in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), a scheme conceived during the military regime to revive the flagging economy.
The government has boasted of the scheme's success, but there have been complaints from local people about problems emanating from the top-down policy changes in city planning and land use without public input. At the time the EEC was conceived, the military regime invoked the draconian Section 44 to change city planning to kickstart the scheme, suppressing local resistance. As a result, industries in Chachoengsao intrude into communities, some releasing wastewater into water sources in the area known as the "rice bowl of the east", causing contamination concerns. In Rayong, there is a water shortage, with conflict looming between industry and the farming sector. State authorities are sluggish in recognising such problems.
It's good that the government is taking part in the EU-Asean initiative. It should take this opportunity to right the wrong, making "smart cities" really smart.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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