BANGKOK — Broken manhole cover traps, fallen wires, phoneless phone booths, missing bus maps and smelly bins. Walking in Bangkok can be a challenging and unpleasant experience.
Rather than place hope in the powers that be to fix everything and make the city walkable – an outcome that could be worse – a group of urban advocates got together to brainstorm a new platform to crowdsource the problem and invite everyone to help make the city better.
First is collecting the data, for which the group of gadflies created “YouPin,” an app anyone can use to build out the crowdsourced map of street problems via a web app or bilingual chatbot.
“We wanted to create a sense of ownership of the city” said Thitiphong Luangaroonlerd, who developed the project and app with a large group of about 20 friends. “Instead of only waiting for authorities to fix things, we now do what we can.”
It’s a Big Data approach to understanding and prioritizing problems for improvement.
As a longtime advocate for street maintenance, Thitiphong said City Hall does has listened and resolved problems he’s complained about. But, the 33-year-old IT worker said, the channels of reporting them need to work better, as the 1555 hotline and government website are not very usable.
And they don’t leverage the benefits of today’s networked technology.
“Also it lacks the quality of being social,” he said.
By putting the reported problems in a public place, Thitiphong said communities can weigh in with what they agree is important to help officials prioritize matters.
While the interface of the beta version of the web app does not yet include English, the Facebook chatbot loves talking in both languages. All you need to do is upload a photo or video with some description of the problem to report, then share the location it was discovered.
The system offers nine categories of problems, including sidewalks, roads, pollution, transportation and waste.
This past weekend, organizers held “Bangkok Urban Hack Day,” where Bangkokians of different walks of life gathered to propose what could be done with the more than 500 pins already added to the map.
“For some pins, we have to depend on the government to fix it, so there needs to be offline cooperation,” Thitiphong said. “But some pins we can fix by ourselves, such as dirty walls or stinky garbage spots.”
They want to collect more data first so they can see what it will be and how to best proposed interfacing with City Hall.
They’ve already won laurels for their effort however. YouPin was chosen in June by the U.N Development Program as Thailand’s winning entry in a sustainable cities competition.
Thitiphong believes embracing data is a real way to make the capital city better.
“Because data has no bias and is measurable,” he said. “Without collecting data, we can never objectively say whether Bangkok today is better than yesterday.”