The government recently announced two lists of 20 and 13 cities that have been selected for its ‘Smart Cities Mission’, out of the 98 that were shortlisted. While it is hoped that these smart cities will benefit the society, there is an urgent need to develop basic infrastructure and create a smooth process for obtaining approvals.
What are Smart Cities?
A paper from the RICS’ Cobra conference, termed a smart city as one that would have a robust and interactive ICT (information and communication technology) infrastructure. This ICT infrastructure would be spread across the city. A host of daily services, such as water, power distribution and solid waste management, would be managed by a command centre, which would also control the traffic movement within the city limits.
Ashutosh Kapoor, a Delhi-based architect and real estate consultant explains that “The smart city plan envisages the creation of smart urban landscapes that are liveable and minimise the problems arising out of rapid urban expansion. A number of states and authorities at the city-level, are now gearing up to achieve this idea. With technical advancements, international help and consultation, these authorities are trying to bring this to reality,” he adds.
What are the benefits?
1. Mitigates the risks associated with rapid urbanisation
According to estimates, more than half of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. India is expected to witness a similar shift in population (from rural to urban). Consequently, a smart city should be able to address unique challenges, vis-à-vis industrial inefficiencies, being unable to meet the rising urban demand, power generation, use of green technologies and use of natural resources such as water, food, farm land, etc.
2. Efficient services
A smart city is also expected to employ innovative technologies to meet the challenges associated with the day-to-day management of services within the city. This may cover areas such as transport, waste management, pollution control, healthcare, education, communications and other civic services. “Most of our cities that are expanding rapidly, are facing such issues. The concept of smart cities, aims to address these challenges,” says Anil Kashyap, a Delhi-based urban planner.
3. Cover against climate change
Some of our metropolitan cities, now have the highest levels of pollution in the world. According to Peter Calthorpe, author of the book ‘Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change’, rapid urbanisation will give rise to a disproportionately large share of problems and challenges. A smart city will help to minimise the adverse effects of rapid urbanisation, by tackling high levels of pollution and other environmental risks and addressing public health, land conservation and affordable housing.
What lies ahead?
In the current scheme of things, the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) will set up a special purpose vehicle (SPV) at the city level. While the SPV will have representatives from the government, it should also have private participation, to handle tasks in a professional manner. Moreover, this will bring greater clarity in the processes.
Problems, such as the unavailability of contiguous land mass, poor urban planning, slow approvals, lack of infrastructure and poor connectivity, may impede the Smart Cities Mission. Consequently, the government needs to address these issues along with other developments and improve the synchronisation between policy changes and announcements, to make the mission a success.