In April, Singapore announced plans for the ASEAN Smart City Network (ASCN), which consists of 26 cities from around the region. These cities include digital front-runners such as Singapore, which is employing AI-powered healthcare platforms, as well as developing cities looking to build comprehensive transport systems.
One such city is Vientiane, the capital of Laos. The historic city was once a kingdom by itself, under French rule and then occupied by the Japanese. Complete with impressive Buddha temples and an arc de triomphe covered in carvings of Laotian mythology, the city now hopes to reinvent itself one more time – into a smart and sustainable city.
“We hope that we can learn from the other cities; they have many things as part of a smart city that we can learn from,” says Vilayvone Chanthalaty, Director of the City Office for Management and Services. She shares with GovInsider her plans for the year ahead, and what being a part of the regional network means.
For most people considering smart cities, sludge is not where the mind wanders. And yet for Vientiane, which only last December installed a functional sewer system, it’s the place to start. Currently, the city produces around 300 to 500 tonnes of waste a day, and it is all transferred to designated city landfills.
But this is neither a sustainable nor safe solution. Waste collected within the city can give rise to diseases such as typhoid, and is extremely harmful to the environment. And so, the City Office is looking into technology to better manage waste.
Vientiane has recently launched a fecal sludge management system which uses a sustainable treatment process using planted reed beds – the first in the world to do so. The office is also researching a waste management system that can address the rest of the landfills piling up.
Green is clean
The capital is surrounded by forest and paddy which the city hopes to preserve most of it. The government is looking to develop more public gardens; plant more trees in urban areas; and ensure that Vientiane stays a clean and green city, even in the heights of rapid economic transformation.
Pollution is also a growing concern and the city has been putting countermeasures in place. These include clean vehicle indicators: all vehicles on the street must have technical checks, and cannot have adapted or changed parts that don’t meet standard regulations. The office also hopes to target industrial pollution, Chanthalaty continues; no chemicals are to be left over from factories, and all waste water should be recycled before being drained into the natural canals.
Healthcare is another area that the city is looking to improve. The local government wants to give urban and rural residents easier access to hospitals and health facilities.
The office is looking to increase the number of doctors, nurses and number of beds in local hospitals by 20% by 2025. “We are also focusing on improving the quality of doctors, nurses and service in the hospitals, including technology and new equipment for them,” notes Chanthalaty.
It is increasing training for medical professionals specialising in the most common diseases prevalent in the city such as dengue fever. The city is also training doctors and nurses to raise service standards in public hospitals so they can compete with international standards and reduce the strain on private hospitals in Vientiane.
Cutting congestion is a priority for the growing city. “We want to reduce traffic congestion and car accidents in the city,” Chanthalaty says, and the first step is building a better transport system than the bus rapid transit Vientiane currently hosts. This way, citizens might be more inclined to take public transport and reduce congestion in the city.
Another project is to increase traffic lights throughout the city. Currently, the city only has traffic lights at junctions. Together with improved roads and increased traffic lights on roads, the City Office hopes to reduce the number of car accidents that occur each year. Chanthalaty believes that the government can use technology to inform citizens about congested areas so they can avoid those roads.
The local government is also running campaigns to garner citizen interest in policy matters. For example, the government can crowdsource funding from residents to improve local roads, Chanthalaty believes. “If citizens contribute 30%, the government can support 70% for the small roads. For the main roads, the government is making plans and setting up the budget to do this,” she adds.
With changes to transport, cleanliness and healthcare in the works, the infrastructure in this ancient city is undergoing major revamps to keep up with the times.