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Mandalay’s challenging road to becoming a smart city

At the 32nd ASEAN Summit in Singapore in April, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for an ASEAN Smart Cities Network to assist smart and sustainable development in 26 cities in ASEAN.

Earlier this month, a list of the 10 most promising cities among the 26 was highlighted by Cristina Lago, online editor of CIO Asia.com, based on information from GovInsider, The ASEAN Post, The Economist Intelligence Unit and the network’s project profiles.

The cities on the list were Mandalay, Hanoi and Danang in Vietnam, Singapore, Jakarta and Makassar in Indonesia, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Bangkok and Phuket in Thailand, and New Clark City in the Philippines.

Some people may think that smart cities are about machines running things, like in a sci-fi movie. However, the project is not about luxuries for the rich but about facilitating public services through the use of technology, said U Ye Myat Thu, a member of Mandalay City Development Committee and an IT professional who is CEO of the Mandalay Smart City project.

“The main problem here is the massive global change brought about by internet technology. For example, in the past, if an urban area was about 25 square kilometres, waste was disposed of outside the urban area. Once an urban area starts getting bigger, then problems start emerging. Mandalay now generates nearly 1000 tonnes of rubbish a day.

“There is also the matter of resources. Take electricity, for example. The number of households has increased but the required resources have not. The same can be said for wastewater treatment. Projects that are based on these required resources and technologies are necessary,” said U Ye Myat Thu.

“Mandalay is now bringing technology to bear on these issues. The city is doing things like utilising internet-connected sensors to manage traffic at junctions by installing CCTV cameras at traffic lights to monitor and record activity from a control room and setting up GPS systems in rubbish trucks to monitor their routes. Some townships have started to use automatic meter reading systems, with which a city employee can record water usage by just walking in front of a house.

“None of this is about luxury. We have to use technology for our needs. Rubbish is increasing, but we’re not able to simply deploy more bins because it won’t be cost-effective if we require more workers to manage the bins. What’s needed is more recycling. Technology is needed to tackle these problems. Although we have started many initiatives, many tasks remain to be tackled. We haven’t yet taken on sectors like tourism and investments, partly because the required expertise isn’t available yet,” said U Ye Myat Thu.

Author Saya Sue Nghet, a resident of Mandalay, said it is good that the city is using technology to become a smart city. However, he said more study is needed into the requirements and benefits the effort will bring.

“The committee is working hard, but it should get in touch with people more. Although GPS is installed in rubbish trucks, they don’t reach some suburban areas. Although the traffic lights are installed, some are located where they aren’t needed. A smart city should not only be for people using cars but also for those who walk and use bikes,” said Saya Sue Nghet.

Signs in public places and other infrastructure like railings and street signs should be standardised, he said.

“Experts should be advising the committee,” he said.

“The committee is more like a service provider than a government body. It runs on tax money, and if the public believes in it, change will come,” U Ye Myat Thu said about Mandalay’s chances of becoming a smart city.

SOURCE: MYANMAR TIMES

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