People power how to make India’s (and the world’s) cities truly smart.
Think Delhi or Mumbai are crowded? You’ve not seen anything yet. Smart cities are the only answer to the country’s urban population crisis – but flicking a switch or signing a bill isn’t enough. For city planners in India and across the world, real smartness can only be created through a community revolution.
Nearly 600 million people will be living in India’s cities by 2030 . Rural-to-urban migration has been one of the principal social themes of the country – and indeed the world – over the past decade, and with the city-based services sector predicted to deliver continued growth while farm incomes fall, the trend is set to strengthen still further. For anybody who has visited, let alone lived in one of these teeming metropoleis, this represents a daunting – and even frightening – prospect.
Creating sustainable, smarter urban infrastructure therefore has to be a top priority for India’s policy makers, ICT businesses and non-governmental organizations. The government’s promised investment of USD 1.2 billion – roughly a dollar for every citizen – in developing smart cities is a welcome start, but given the scale of the issue, much more still needs to be done.
This article will identify the sectors where India’s smart city efforts should initially be focused. A new model will then be presented that has the potential to change radically the way India, and the rest of the world, approaches the implementation of smart cities.
Defined at its most elementary level, a smart city is a large urban area that uses data – collected by sensors or digital interfaces and then interpreted through analytics – to improve the quality of life of its citizens. The Western world has numerous examples of cities that have applied this approach to specific aspects of their infrastructure, with Berlin, Chicago and Stockholm just a few of the municipalities that have successfully used data to improve efficiency, minimize consumption and reduce costs.
Debates on this subject in India have so far centered on time and expenditure. It is interesting to note, however, that the necessity of smart cities has not been seriously questioned. Smartness is increasingly – and correctly – seen as a new paradigm for India’s city planning and governance processes – a fast-forward button that can help the country accelerate the resolution of some of its most perennial social and environmental challenges, and meet the demands of a resolutely urban future. The following sections examine in more detail the potential of smart cities to address three of these areas, while showing that building a smart city also requires technology to be combined with broader policy actions.
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By Karan Chatrath