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ASU sustainability experts help Thailand restructure economy


August 21, 2006

Two ASU faculty are helping Thailand become more sustainable by providing expertise and advice to Thai universities and government agencies.

Douglas Webster, a professor in the School of Global Studies and Global Institute of Sustainability, and David Pijawka, a professor in the School of Planning and the Global Institute of Sustainability, provided advice on issues concerning sustainable development and planning.

This summer, Webster and Pijawka made presentations at a symposium conducted by the King Monghut Institute of Technology. Pijawka was the keynote speaker at the symposium, titled “The Missing Links in Sustainability,” which covered issues of moving sustainability theory and science into planning and practice, and developing methods of measurement. Webster discussed larger regional issues of an emerging Thai national policy based on sustainable development, as well as the structural changes to the economy that will result from such a shift.

Thailand is moving away from a manufacturing-based economic system to a sustainable one based on greater alliance on high-value services from tourism and cuisine to fashion and design. Such a move implies dramatic changes – and challenges – to the urban system and the environment.

Development of a national policy based on sustainable development, increased resilience and an “amenity-based” economic system makes environmental protection and sustainability concerns more important than ever.

Pijawka, who teaches a leading ASU course in sustainable cities, provided an intensive course on sustainable design and planning to more than 60 Thai graduate students and faculty. He co-directed a design and planning studio that applied sustainability principles to the revitalization and rebuilding of a significant Thai historical and cultural market town.

He also provided advice to several departments on how to incorporate sustainability science and planning into their education programs.

Pijawka met faculty and researchers at the prestigious Asia Institute of Technology, Chiang Mai University in northwest Thailand , as well as officials of several international research and policy centers such as the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC), which has expertise in oceanographic and climate change research.

Pijawka has research interests in the area of long-term, sustainable recovery after disasters, and the ADPC is funded to develop several tsunami-related programs, including community-based recovery, preparedness and resiliency.

ASU doctoral student Khanin Hutanuwatr also was in Thailand this summer, conducting fieldwork on issues related to the sustainable rebuilding of coastal Thailand after the tsunami. His focus is on the interplay of social vulnerability, long-term economic viability of the regions that were destroyed, and environmental protection or recovery based on sustainability and community resilience. With the involvement of ASU's Webster, Pijawka and James Buizer, the director of ASU's Office of Sustainability Initiatives, his work is is being considered by the international research agendas of the United Nation's Development Program, the ADPC and local institutions.

Webster, through the auspices of the World Bank, spent 30 days advising the Thai National Economic and Social Development Board on establishment of policy frameworks to implement Thailand 's amenity-based development. For example, the Thai government plans to incorporate sustainability principles into its coastal development along the western coast of the Gulf of Thailand , recently designated as the “Thai Riviera.”

This work builds on Webster's role as senior urban policy adviser to the royal Thai government (1993-2005). In addition, the Thai government held a national workshop in late July in Chiang Mai to discuss the implications of Webster's work for amenity-based development in Thailand .

ASU has been steadily expanding its reach into Asia over the past three years, building on a strong foundation of existing projects while, at the same time, bringing in new faculty such as Webster and Pijawka.

The invitations to Webster and Pijawka reflect the growing awareness of ASU's global expertise in sustainability science, policy and planning. A number of activities are being planned between ASU faculty and Thailand 's universities and governmental agencies, including:

• A scholarship for Thai graduate students to spend a semester at ASU.

• Student exchanges between Shinawatra University and ASU's School of Global Studies .

• A workshop on sustainability practices and ecotourism.

• A joint binational planning studio.

Several ASU urbanists and planners will attend the conference on World Class Cities in Bangkok in January, and Thailand will conduct a meeting of the world's university presidents where one of the topics will be sustainability. In addition, ASU faculty will attend a symposium this month on tsunami-related preparedness and infrastructure.

These connections between ASU expertise in sustainability sciences, community resilience, and natural disaster planning and sustainability makes the university a global player in this area.