Chiang Mai University School of Public Policy (SPP) is strategically situated 700 km. (435 miles) north of Bangkok, at Thailand’s second capital city of Chiang Mai. This is because SPP considers this locale, dynamically comprised of ancient and modern paradigms, an ‘urban lab’ for comprehending the melting pot of worldwide urbanization phenomena that are also ensuing throughout Asia’s secondary (non-mega) cities.

Considered the “jewel of the north,” Chiang Mai’s centuries of layered cultural heritage are evidenced by a centralized mote edged with the crumbling brick wall prior used for repelling regional invaders. Traditional rural agrarian life personifying the cultural heart-center of Thailand’s peoples is still being exhibited by farmers laboring verdant and expansive rice fields. UNESCO has designated Chiang Mai as a ‘creative city,’ and also placed it on the tentative list for world heritage inscription.

Chiang Mai is a trendy municipality. The sufficiently affluent can access an array of amenities also including an affordable lifestyle involving abundant nature, local and fusion foods, a vibrant nightlife, as well as health and wellness inlets, among other favorable aspects. This hub, well-connected regionally and globally, is a top-destination for both tourism and long-stay retirees. Universities and innovations hubs are also being invested in here. Even digital nomads working online as part of a post-modern global market system are flocking to this meeting point. Things are happening.

Concurrently, this overall area is drastically changing from its traditionally slow-paced and conservative culture into a mini-Bangkok of sorts. This is particularly evident with worsening traffic congestion, pollution, and increasing social tensions. Rice paddies are being filled with concrete. A rapidly growing number of businesses, condominium complexes, and shopping malls are now gracing Chiang Mai’s mountainous Buddhist temple-topped skyline. The overall landscape is transforming.

These phenomena are drastically altering the geographical and socio-ecological composition of the Thai north and its traditional communities. This is having a profound effect on how families and individuals interact with each other and with their natural environment. Farmers are selling their generations-old properties to both domestic and foreign investors. Younger Thai generations are abandoning traditional agricultural economy-based customs for those of industrialized modernity. Financial debt that people oftentimes have difficulty repaying is subsequently incurring and becoming an accepted cultural centerpiece. What can also be observed is shifting demographics including regional migration issues, societal homogenization involving the national acculturation of indigenous peoples, expanding income inequality and additional societal stratification, competition for space, and other unplanned changes.

SPP, while delving into this city’s dynamics as a research and public policies consulting organization, is offering this urban lab classroom to its ‘pracademic’ students. While observing the marvels transpiring in this world area, they become deeply exposed to the root issues, and the actors, connected with this diversified spectrum of development phenomena. Students equipped with holistic understanding of how sound public policies can be crafted and utilized for inclusive, innovative, and progressive solutions to our world’s most topical and prominent problems.