Smart Cities

By Prapanna Lahiri

The worldwide trend of people flocking in large numbers from the countryside to settle down in old historical cities and new evolving cities forced urban administrators and planners to start looking for more innovative solutions to the challenges to urban living. The local and national governments face challenges of finding smarter infrastructure solutions in the areas of housing, jobs, food, transport, energy, communication networks and technological innovations for cleaner environment. From these challenges has emerged the concept of ‘smart city’ which in many ways is the ideal habitat that provides smarter solutions to all these urban imperatives.

There is no universally accepted definition of Smart City which means different things to different people. It would carry a different meaning in India than, say, in Europe. The idea of a smart city primarily begins with using digital technology that makes a city more efficient and improves wellbeing of its inhabitants. The concept of ‘Smart Cities’ became popular within the European Union. Studies show that the cities consume 75% of worldwide energy production and generate 80% of CO2 emissions. Accordingly, the European Community’s initiatives for Smart Cities focussed, among other factors, on issues of sustainability such as buildings, energy networks and transport.  Definition: The Business Dictionary defines a smart city as “a developed urban area that creates sustainable economic development and high quality of life by excelling in multiple key areas; economy, mobility, environment, people, living, and government. Excelling in these key areas can be done so through strong human capital, social capital, and/ or ICT infrastructure.” [ICT stands for Information and Communication Technology].

A simple definition of smart city could be — a city equipped with basic infrastructure to give a decent quality of life, a clean and sustainable environment through application of some smart solutions.

The relative emphasis on various characteristics that define a smart city should be in conformity with the level of development, willingness to change and reform, available resources and aspirations of the city residents. Two other terms, namely, ‘intelligent city’ and ‘digital city’ have also been used while describing ‘smart cities’.

In India: The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, since taking over, has focussed particular attention on the urbanisation front. From the very beginning of his election campaign in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had spoken about building 100 smart cities in India. This has been part of the great Modi vision to make this – India’s century alongside other ambitious schemes like bullet trains and linked rivers. The Modi government’s concept of a smart city goes a bit broader, basically meaning any city that also works well, particularly for businesses.

Investment: The Union Government has planned to select 100 cities in three phases — 20 in 2015-16 and 40 each in subsequent years to be developed as Smart Cities. The Smart Cities Mission was allocated an aggregate outlay of Rs 48,000 crore, with Rs 100 crore earmarked for each city per year for successive five years. The aggregate investment in urban renewal though looks huge; the investment per city seems relatively small making it clear that the government expects most of the financial support for smart cities to come from private investment. The government also announced relaxation of norms for foreign direct investment from overseas companies to invest in smart cities. The government has mooted the idea of Special Purpose Vehicles to be set up for smart cities by each state to ensure their financing. Collaborations have also been sought from France, Japan, Singapore and other countries for the projects. The intent also is to link this mission to other key projects of the government such as Digital India and Swachh Bharat (Clean India).

Smart City Mission of the government envisions taking courageous and path breaking initiatives. It intends setting examples which could be replicated both within and outside the Smart City. The initiatives can catalyse creation of similar Smart Cities in various regions of the country. The mission encompasses the following core infrastructure elements for a smart city:

  1. Assured electricity supply
  2. Adequate water supply
  3. Affordable housing (especially for the poor)
  4. Sanitation, including solid waste management
  5. Storm water drainage to reduce flooding
  6. Efficient public transport and urban mobility
  7. Pedestrian only zones and parking spaces
  8. Health and education
  9. Safety and security of citizens, particularly women, children and the elderly,
  10. Sustainable environment
  11. Durable IT connectivity and digitalisation,
  12. Good governance, especially e-Governance with citizens’ participation.

Smart Cities need Smart Solutions designed to improve quality of life. Solutions to be called smart should be right sized to the challenges they are required to address; bigger is not necessarily better. Some of the smart solutions to the core infrastructure elements picked from experience of urban planners the world over are: −

  1. Smart IT and Communications
  • Digital Empowerment
  • Broadband and Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Smart Phones and Mobile Apps

     2. E-Governance and Citizen Services

  • Citizen Engagement in planning/ feedback
  • Public Information/ Grievance Redressed.
  • Electronic Service Delivery (E-filing forms, Fault Booking, Issuing Licence, Permit & Certificates and E-Payment & Receipt
  • Video Crime Monitoring

      3.    Waste Management

  • Waste segregation
  • Waste to Energy/ Fuel/ Compost
  • Treating Waste Water/ Recycling
  • Reduction/ Recycling of Construction & Demolition Waste

     4. Water Management

  • Smart Water Meters/ Consumption Monitoring
  • Leakage Identification, Preventive Maintenance
  • Water Quality Monitoring
  • Rain Water Harvesting

    5. Energy Management

  • Smart Energy Meters
  • Renewable Energy sources
  • LED Lighting
  • Energy Efficient & Green Buildings

    6. Urban Mobility

  • Smart Parking concepts
  • Intelligent Traffic Management
  • Integrated Multi-Modal Transport

    7. Others/ Miscellaneous

  • Smart Buildings, Smart Living Solutions
  • Smart Disaster Management Strategies
  • Tele-Medicine & Tele Education
  • Incubation/ Trade Facilitation Centres
  • Skill Development/ Sustainable livelihood

A “Smart City” has been visualised as an urban model where sustainability, economic development and a high quality of life constitute the key factors. The vision is for an urban space which is ecologically friendly, technologically integrated and precisely planned, making maximum possible usage of information technology to improve efficiency.

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