Getting Intuitive About Smart Cities In India

Rohan Sharma
* Smart Cities: The New Age Concept

The smart cities concept may not be a novel one, but in the Indian context it is definitely an idea whose relevance couldn’t have been better timed. The government has provided the thrust towards development of such cities, and needs to be now backed by a holistic concept. It aims to take in to account not only the infrastructure development and associated real estate
growth but the assimilation of technology to increase the efficiency of the public service systems as well. Three critical elements are essential to act as enablers for creation of smart cities. These are Smart Technology, Smart Users and Smart Governance.

*Necessity For Improved Local Governance

Creation and management of a smart city perhaps lies in local (city) agency domain since local governance is their mandate and it is in their hands to demonstrate smart governance. This means that development and long-term vision regarding technology-driven public utilities and their acceptance by the public becomes the responsibility of the local government agencies. The current municipal operations need to undergo a systemic overhaul to get around creating a ‘sustained smart’ city architecture. This requires not only acceptance of technology as a means to regulate public services and city infrastructure but also requires a sustained investment environment in to such technological platforms.

Capacity building in municipal governance and local self-government departments is needed across all levels.  How the local bodies can invest in such technology is through encouraging private enterprises which have such platforms ready for integration at a city level. Implementation and running costs need to be covered through an efficient tax collection system and innovative fund raising to ensure long-term investments and relevant upgrades.

The role of the local agencies hence becomes paramount in this regard. Swifter decision making, cutting across time delays and defining roles and responsibilities of involved stakeholders becomes an evident need. Similarly, training of personnel and maintaining the technology platforms through continuous engagement also rests on the shoulders of the municipal agency. Creating long-term technology infrastructure to enable real-time data availability and analysis and enabling redundancies to create multiple neural networks which devolve in to the master network also becomes paramount.

The fund allocation and systematic deployment of resources also falls in the purview of these agencies. Creating smarter city level infrastructure across roads, sewage, water, transport, traffic, waste management, power, energy savings, air quality monitoring and information availability are all domains which require an increased level of participation, understanding and expertise in our local government framework.

*Technology As An Enabler

Technology forms the backbone which provides the structure and form to a smart city. Creating interactive and online platforms to encourage innovation and participation of all stakeholders and engaging with private enterprises who are leaders in technology-driven solutions is essential to bring about a sustained change in the liveability of a city. Transformative possibilities abound with utilisation of big data and analytics instead of using the same looking glass of treating information in discrete compartments.

The need is to create a system of systems, in to which is funnelled the data that is collaborated from the different agencies. Innovations such as Cloud-based solutions and predictive analytics are great value enhancers which today allow a city to devise forward-looking solutions and enable creation of a sustainable city environment and its resources.

Investing in such technologies along with the current increase in mobile data analytics and social media participation to involve the citizens will allow a synergy of efforts which the main system will be able to utilise effectively to bring about definitive changes as to how we will live in our cities.

While technology has pervaded all aspects of our lives, the next inevitable step is to increase its penetration across all sections of the demography. User sensitization towards use of technology and contribution towards it stems from making them conversant and comfortable with the technology platforms so using them becomes a second nature to them. Technology has the ability to enable convergence between the various stakeholders to create a modern, dynamic and throbbing living ecosystem in our cities.

* Better People Interface

The last but not the least critical component is the Users. The contribution of education, training and a yearning to learn and contribute actively towards their living conditions, is what allows a smart city to live and sustain through its citizens.   As citizens, we need to be more accepting of diversity and new technology to make a big contribution towards making our cities smarter.

As technology changes the way we live, utilising social media as a change driver, being self-aware and participating through interactive solutions and assimilating technology into the way one lives becomes crucial in defining one’s living environment. Embracing new changes and innovations and contributing towards fostering open-mindedness through evolving thought is the duty of citizens and without this change in psyche, implementation of smart cities will not be complete.

A smart city by inference will thus allow for efficient use of infrastructure and the city’s resources. An increase in transparency levels across decision-making, polity, resource allocation and citizen rights and responsibilities will inevitably result and enable weeding out of red tape and corruption which act as impediments to maintaining the balance between sustainability and development.

* An Indian Experiment

In the Indian context, the current government has announced its intention of setting up 100 smart cities. This importantly seeks to create a smarter city on the existing cities’ framework. Improving the existing cities is definitely a step in the right direction. Intensive capital budgeting is required for implementation and setting up of such smart cities in the country.

As the engine of economic development chugs along, cities are the real growth enablers which act as magnets for employment and investments. Creating a sustainable living environment, which will make cities grow in a better and planned manner while bearing the strain of urbanization, thus becomes imperative. It is essential that a clear implementation roadmap which outlines the objectives, the various stakeholders and most importantly identifies the funding mechanisms is put in to place.

It also becomes crucial that this opportunity is not interpreted as only real estate led development of commercial offices and housing projects; in fact real estate is both the cause and result of smart cities in a way. While, economic drivers are paramount for the city’s sustainable growth, the focus should be on creating the required physical infrastructure and implementing technology driven platforms which will allow a seamless interchange of information and management of the city’s resources.

Along with this, using better technology to create a more seamless, clean and integrated living environment is the real result that should be derived from development of smart cities. A better quality of life in a city which fosters economic growth, innovation while creating a sustainable model of development and facilitating interactive convergence between the citizens and the local government should be the desired outcome.

* What Lies Ahead?

Smart cities by themselves are not isolated islands of excellence. Nor do they focus only on a seamless services network and technology-driven solutions. A smart city, by efficient allocation and utilisation of resources, will enable tangible solutions towards creating quality housing for all. This will be possible by treating land as a viable commodity, the value and productivity of which can be enhanced by prioritising the optimum utilisation of land.

This will not only allow for developing housing solutions but by use of smarter technology, will also result in quality housing. Design, construction and ancillary industries will benefit from the use of better technology while sustainability will ensure that environment preservation goes hand in hand with economic growth.

A smart city is ultimately a city that is capable of handling the increased pace of urbanization in the best way possible. It does so by creating a living environment that is physically robust, technologically strong, driven by innovation with predictive algorithms to drive the city forward in its growth while also ensuring that it is aesthetically pleasing and environmentally sound to provide a holistic state of mental and physical wellbeing to its citizens.

-Rohan Sharma, 
Associate Director
Research & Real Estate Intelligence Service,
JLL India

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