- By Shin Min
Regional leaders made the decision to establish the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN) at a summit in April last year. Being a member to the network, Myanmar pledged to establish Nay Pyi Taw, Yangon and Mandalay as smart cities.
Mandalay is receiving enthusiastic support from its residence for transforming into a smart city. The following is an interview with U Ye Myat Thu, member of the Mandalay City Development Committee and head of the Mandalay Smart City Project, on the transformational progress.
Q: Can you first tell us what a smart city comprises of?
A: We want to change Mandalay into a smart city in order to make public services better. The people are now using smartphones and using services through them. This calls for the city development committees to utilize technology when providing services to the public.
So, by working to make public services better a smart city is formed. Smart cities are not just about technology, they’re about comfort too. The main point is helping the public.
When Singapore was assuming the duty of ASEAN Chair, they chose 26 cities from the region to establish the ASEAN Smart Cities Network. While the general rule was choosing three cities for each country, some countries, like Singapore, only had one city to put in the list.
Nay Pyi Taw Council Mayor Dr Myo Aung requested for three cities in Myanmar at the national level and they picked Nay Pyi Taw, Yangon and Mandalay. They also appointed leaders for each of the three smart cities.
The three of us have attended a workshop in Singapore. We discussed the ASEAN Smart Cities framework there and handled schemes. The workshop gave us three aims. They are to raise the living standards of the people, create an efficient business environment, and protect the natural environment.
This also includes urban systems, public affairs services, public security, cybersecurity, travel and transportation, and maintaining clean surroundings. When we use technology to implement these topics then we are labelled as a smart city.
Mandalay already has some public services provided with modern technology. For example, we have installed sensors under the roads to manage traffic and prevent jams. The sensors record the license plates and colour of the vehicle and we can use that information if they pass a red light or an accident occurs.
Similarly, we also use GPS for city waste management and water distribution and as they constitutes what a smart city does, we become listed as a smart city.
Q: What sectors have your prioritized in this quest to implement Mandalay into a smart city and what future priority tasks are in consideration?
A: Actually, implementing a smart city is a never ending process. That is because providing services to people living in the city never ends.
There are also new and better technology emerging all the time. We have plans to launch Mandalay Smart Pay in the future for online transactions. We also have plans for energy management to cope with the changes to the electric meter.
The number of vehicles in Mandalay has increased in the last decade so we are trying to cope with that and prevent traffic jams. We are trying to implement a plan so that cars don’t need to line up at the toll gate. There were also changes to processes for paving roads.
The main thing is making what we normally do for the public even better. Mandalay has its landmarks and we will preserve them. You can say public cooperation is one of our landmarks as well.
Q: We understand the smart city initiative aims to make the people’s lives better. Are you cooperating on anything with international or regional organizations?
A: Some people picture technology from the James Bond films or some aspect of luxury when they think of smart cities. But that’s not the case. We are trying to make a better social system that caters to the advancements of technology.
We’re also in the ASEAN Smart Cities Network. ASEAN has its differences and similarities, such as land issues for example. But since we cooperate with each other we manage to share.
ASCN was invited to an expo in Washington, US, last July and they witnessed technology and met with entrepreneurs. There is cooperation with Japan, South Korea and Australia.
We three leaders of the smart city movement for Nay Pyi Taw, Yangon and Mandalay attend these international events and cooperate with each other as well. For example, we’re working together on zip codes.
Q: Are there any challenges on this path?
A: It’s natural for there to be a reaction to change. Sometimes people have difficulty accepting technology replacing a process or something in the area. For example, when we installed the GPS devices people tried to sabotage them by pouring water into them or short-circuiting them. There are also things we’ve prepared for that never happened.
Q: When we talk about smart cities, how do you tie in the concept of ‘green city’ that’s trending over the world?
A: It’s in our three objectives for a smart city. We plant trees to make the environment greener and we relocate trees instead of cutting them down. Energy management is also included in the green concept. We will strive for minimum wastage, proper use of electricity and ample production.
Going green isn’t just limited to an abundance of trees. It includes society not harming the natural world and helping it prosper.
Q: We have another question concerning smart cities. Mandalay contains a lot of royal traditions and heritage, so how will you preserve them?
A: It’s not just the old palace, we also have the ancient city of Amarapura under the Mandalay City Development jurisdiction. But now there’s none of that left as people have moved in.
The Konbaung dynasty’s heritage is present in Amarapura as well. We are doing all we can to preserve them. We don’t alter the names and take care of what is left.
Q: The people have been acknowledging the city development committee’s accomplishments. Do you have any new plans for them?
A: All our committee members are trying their best and are always in contact with the public throughout that process. That’s why the public is involved in a lot of our work.
Q: We hear you are working on a new address system. When will that change be implemented and how far have you progressed?
A: Mandalay’s address system has always been great. When we were kids, an inner city mail reached its destination in 24 hours and took one to two days to reach rural areas. You could easily send money and items through the postal system.
The road system is also good. You can clearly tell where you’re going from the street names that go East to West and South to North. The house numbers are also well organized.
Later on, some people sold the circular houses in half and the city changed as it expanded. People are using online services now and they have to mention the closest hotel or restaurant as guides when giving addresses. They cannot reach you with just the address and building number anymore.
This is why we are making a new address system. It will help make services better for the people and will be implemented soon.
Q: Reducing crime is also an integral part of making a city developed. While it doesn’t directly concern the city development groups, have you included any projects to reduce crime in the smart city?
A: We have a Safe City Project in Mandalay. We’ve installed CCTVs and have police monitoring from a control room. We’re planning to have it operate without human input. Then there’s street lamps. We find that there is a correlation between the availability of street lamps and crime rates.
Q: Is there anything else you wish to tell the public?
A: I want the people to know that we are incorporating technology in public services and it makes the services better. That is why the city development committee are trying to make these services better.
For example, in paving roads we will transition from using old rocks to newer rocks mixed with cement. The main thing is making things better while adapting to change. We must all work together to make a liveable city that doesn’t harm the natural environment.
(Translated by Pen Dali)