Chiang Mai, primarily depending on agriculture, tourism and handicrafts, has in recent years - as if you haven't noticed - begun to reinvent itself somewhat as a much more modern, cosmopolitan city with a more diversified industry. The city has given rise to numerous media, IT, digital design and software companies, as well as a veritable tsunami of small start-ups, especially around the Nimmanhaemin area. Though Chiang Mai's evolutionary leaps are consistent, there are certain, er, missing links, between the various sectors involved with the city's development.
Because of this, the 'Chiang Mai Creative City Development Committee' was set up by the Governor of Chiang Mai. The Committee, chaired by Chiang Mai University (CMU), brings together the educational, governmental and private sectors in an attempt to guide Chiang Mai towards its future. The Committee is also working closely with community groups such as Muang Muang and Chiang Mai Friends.
Martin Venzky-Stalling, a regional development and innovation advisor at CMU, explained to Citylife just what Chiang Mai Creative City was about. Other committee members of Creative City, Simon Robson, Managing Director of a local software development company, and Tul Luk-u-tai, Managing Director of a Nimmanhaemin digital design studio and winner of the Creative City's logo design competition, also offered their input. Venzky-Stalling explains that the Creative City model needs to fit Chiang Mai, but it can draw on the examples of many other cities where this concept has been successfully implemented. For example, UNESCO currently accredits 26 cities globally as being Creative Cities, in different categories such as Design, Media & Art, Music, etc. "We hope to get Chiang Mai accredited by UNESCO," says Venzky-Stalling, adding that UNESCO in Bangkok has already shown interest.
"In the past," say the three committee members, "the Chiang Mai sectors would work separately, and were each quite change resistant, but we are now working together, sharing ideas, solving problems together." This kind of working together for the 'greater good' says Venzky-Stalling, will in the end create more jobs, enhance the economy and be good for everyone, not just for business owners, but for all citizens of Chiang Mai. He points out that 100,000 students graduate from local universities in Chiang Mai province each year - and many end up having to go to Bangkok to find work. But Chiang Mai, he adds, should and could be creating its own opportunities. Tul elaborated "Change is happening all around the world. We can't avoid change, what we need is a strategy to prepare our community for changes. Chiang Mai Creative City is a solution which can help upgrade Chiang Mai for the future."
The Development Committee is currently working on strategy and roadmap. It plans innovation projects as well as educational, training, and marketing activities. As the group explains, "Chiang Mai has many of the right ingredients for the successful development of a creative city. Yet there are also challenges and weaknesses to be overcome. Chiang Mai has been lacking a catalyst, a set of key and visible actions that bring together the various ingredients in such a way that they 'ignite' and create sustainable momentum." As Robson expands, "for me to live a happier life, a better life, for my business to improve, then the city must improve, and then life for me and everyone else will improve." Tul, echoes his sentiments, explaining that without more cooperation amongst the key stakeholders, Chiang Mai cannot do as well as it should.
One of the key focus areas initially will be on human resource development. The Development Committee aims to encourage universities and companies to work more together. Robson explains that for his company he still finds it hard to find local talent, with the necessary skills that his business demands. The opportunity to speak to all the various Chiang Mai educational institutions for Robson and others in the private sector is invaluable.
"Chiang Mai is the ideal city for foreign residents," says Venzky-Stalling, "even though Phuket has a large expat community it is a more transient community." He reiterates that Chiang Mai could in the future become a hub of employment for local people as well as foreigners, attracting investments from home and abroad. "We have to create awareness of what we have, create a sensible path of development for the city and build for a new generation," he adds.
Thailand Creative & Design Centre (TCDC)
Citylife was visited, just before going to press, by TCDC's team who came up to Bangkok to announce that a large centre will be built near Muang Mai Market by mid 2012 offering complete service, training, library and information on all things creative and design related. This building will act as a resource for all individuals and companies interested in creativity and design.