Smart & Sustainable Living
Shubhra Saini talks to the pertinent stakeholders involved in building Smart Cities in India for their perspective on viability and pragmatic importance of creating such cities and to critically analyse that how far the objective has been achieved.
The concept of smart city originated with the Smart Planet Initiative of IBM in 2008. The early adopters of this concept were countries in Europe, China and South Korea that planned huge investment in the cities to prepare them for the future. Launched in the year 2015 in India, Smart Cities is also the realistic necessity of urban India.
In the Budget 2018, the government has proposed a 50 % increase in the allocation for smart cities from Rs. 4,000 crore to Rs. 6,169 crore. The proposed 99 Smart cities will be implementing various projects like smart command and control centre, smart roads, solar rooftops, intelligent transport systems and smart parks. Stating that it’s not right to compare Indian smart cities mission with that of Europe or North America, Rahul Singla, Director, Mapsko Group, commented, “There is no universally accepted definition of a smart city. The concept therefore, varies from country to country, depending on the level of development, willingness to change and reform, resources and aspirations of the city residents. In India a smart cities mission is an urban renewal and retrofitting program to make urban cities citizen friendly and sustainable.”
Darshan Govindaraju, Director, Vaishnavi Group, opined, “A Smart City may be defined as one where various infrastructure requirements – be it physical, social and economic, are addressed efficiently and planned intelligently duly keeping in mind the long term requirements of that particular city and its surroundings. This would necessarily have to take into account a historic study of the growth of the city, understand its current limitations and importantly, forecast, to a high degree of accuracy, how the city is going to grow. All this is enabled through the use of technology and accurate data collection.”
Stating examples of what a smart city should be like in Indian context, Arun Anand, Joint CMO, Shriram Properties said, “Smart cities use ICT & IoT to dynamically interface with residents, city administration and physical infrastructure. These cities will optimise the use of resources, for example, predicting and managing energy consumption or identifying & rectifying a fire breakout before even anyone gets to know.”
Adarsh Narahari, Secretary CREDAI Bengaluru, expressing his views said, “The primary objective of connected infrastructure of a smart city should be to optimise resources and build in efficiencies that result in significant savings. By nature a smart city if done right has to be sustainable involving clean technologies for energy generation and reduction in CO2 emissions.”
How Smart Cities model works
Cities prepare Smart City Proposals (SCPs) using the principles of strategic planning process and the proposals contain area-based development plans and pan-city initiatives. Preparing SCPs is a collaborative effort because the objectives and funds of all government departments, parastatals and private agencies are taken into consideration. The citizens participate during the process of preparing the SCPs. As the task of preparing the SCPs is quite challenging, the States/ULBs seek technical assistance by either hiring consulting firms or engaging with handholding agencies.
Area-based development (ABD)
- Retrofitting: Identify an area of more than 500 acres and prepare a plan to make it more efficient with citizens’ participation
- Greenfield: Introduce smart solutions in an area of 250 acres by using innovative planning (land pooling/land reconstitution).
- Redevelopment: Replace existing built-up area (50 acres) and prepare a new layout plan with enhanced infrastructure by way of mixed land use.
- Pan-city development: Use technology, information and data to make existing city-wide infrastructure and services better.
Giving an example, Renato Werner, CEO, Polsec LED, Brazil explained, “A smart city is a very dynamic subject that encompasses a bevy of, infrastructural, mechanical, communicational and security frameworks for a unidirectional objective, which is smart living. So, it is the interplay of cross-functional technologies which lays the foundation of the dreamed smart city. During my recent participation in National Workshop on Accelerating Implementation of Urban Missions: AMRUT and Smart Cities in India, I have found the Indian government positively moving ahead in implementing the Smart Cities mission. For instance, soon, we are going to test AI-based cameras, on the streets of Mumbai, Delhi, and Agra. The initial installation will contain 100 units of the ‘Smart Eyes’ cameras with Artificial Intelligence (AÍ) and more units will be added.”
Indeed, a clear vision was defined by the government and there has been an attempt to maintain the inherent culture while strengthening & developing technological investments. Each city is unique – in its culture, in technology maturity and key priorities they would like to address. Hence, the approaches and the roadmap adopted by each city are also unique. For instance, citizen engagement is one of the key priorities for the city of Bhopal. Bhopal Smart City has launched a GIS based citizen engagement portal, which provides visibility to the citizens on the various initiatives of city administration and involves them in the city administration processes.
Advocating the liveability aspect of new cities, Farook Mahmood, President FIABCI India and Chairman & Managing Director Silverline Realty emphasized that Smart Cities have to be sustainable and user-friendly for the inhabitants, incorporating the walk-to-work concept – a mix of being environmentally-friendly and a digitally connected city where Wi-Fi is easily available in all public spaces. It has to be sound infrastructure-wise including local transport, good green cover and sustainable initiatives such as rainwater harvesting and water recycling.
Each city has to formulate its own concept, vision, mission and plan (proposal) for a Smart City that is appropriate to its local context, resources and levels of ambition. There is no set model that has to be followed as Government believe that in context of different cities with different Socio-eco-geo conditions- not one size will fit it all.
Technologies develop quickly in different sectors and already many existing solutions can be integrated and replicated in the cities. The exciting tools and techniques can also be used in new ways, in new fields and areas. Transnational learning and exchange of good solutions is necessary to speed up pace. In the same context, Maria Ådahl, Director Open Arena – Urban Development, Johanneberg Science Park, commenting on the technology collaboration between India and Sweden said, “The Indian Government progress to transform Indian cities to become smart cities is impressive. The digitalization and the access to open data and information gives an opportunity for citizens’ engagement, especially the young population, in planning processes and city development, which is identified as imperative for a long-lasting sustainable development of our countries. Hopefully, we will continue developing further the transnational learning between India and Sweden.”
Many global companies have shown interest in investing in India’s Smart cities mission. Vendors including Ericsson, ZTE, Huawei, Nokia and Cisco have given business proposals for the projects. Putting things in perspective, Agendra Kumar, President, Esri India elaborated, “Smart city is about connecting people and technology to achieve better daily outcomes. Smart city leverages information and communication technologies to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare.”
According to Anand, IoT is very important for smart cities. He said, “Sensors that can detect leakages in water pipes ensure timely repairs and less wastage of precious resources. Simple app-based technologies that inform the next bus/shuttle arrival empower the residents as also other software solutions can help the city municipalities manage various aspects of the city pro-actively.”
However, as Werner rightly puts it, “There isn’t any ready formula that can be applied to all cities in order to make them smart, sustainable and good to live. Some resources and solutions that work very good in one city can be a complete disaster and waste of money in any other city, so the best solution is to create an open dialog with the citizens to understand the requirements at ground level.”
Role of Public-Private-Partnerships
These days, Public-Private Partnership (PPP) is a proven formula to accomplish large-sized developmental projects which require large capital and technological prowess. Sharing his views on PPP, Kumar, said, “Smart city is a complex ecosystem made up of many stakeholders including citizens, city authorities, local companies and industry and community groups. Government has a role to provide a conducive framework that enables innovation, collaboration within and outside government and data sharing. Esri India various GIS solutions are being implemented by Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, Orange City Water, Nagpur, and the Commissionerate of Municipal Administration, Chennai. Another example of the Government and private collaboration is our project in Rajasthan, where an integrated GIS system has been implemented to provide a robust information and decision support system. We have also collaborated with the Department of Science and Technology and rolled out a program for start-ups.”
Indeed, Smart cities offer a great opportunity for collaboration between the public and private sectors. The government can create the larger physical infrastructure, while private players can contribute technology and contribute to the running of the city. Aditya Kedia, Managing Director – Transcon Developers added, “Private sector can offer innovative solutions to help citizens build or rebuild existing infrastructure and may improve efficiency if they have the right incentives. Also it would enable faster delivery of services to the people. At present, the financial and Information Technology (IT) services sectors are on the priority list of the government to garner investments from leading companies such as CISCO, EMC, GE, IBM and Bajaj.”
PPP models will ensure that there is interest and participation from the private sector which offers many advantages – better quality of projects due to specialization, lower monetary outflow from the government, wider interests of the public identified and captured since there are more groups involved in the decision making.
Challenges & Progress
If demographers are to be believed, India will become the most-populous country in the world by 2030 and a huge population shift will be towards urban areas. The increase in city population would require better accommodation, jobs, civic amenities, efficient governance, fast communication means, speedy and hassle-free transport system and uninterrupted & clean power, water supply and good quality of life.
Briefing on the basic challenges towards smart city implementation on ground, Kedia said, “The challenges range from non-existent or poor planning to lack of good governance. Land supplies, financial help for projects, foreign direct investment are issues which have to be resolved at the different phases of implementation.”
Mahmood, stated, “In spite of the proposals been finalized, more than 80% of the work has been on hold which is delaying the upgrading of the cities to meet the near future demands.” Reiterating Mahmood’s statement, Govindaraju informed that since its launch in 2015, the Smart City initiative has not made the desired progress. In fact as per media reports only 5.2% of the envisaged projects have been completed.
Of the 731 smart city projects worth Rs 46,366 crore approved so far, implementation has started in 49 and 24 projects have been completed as of January 2017. According to figures on the Union urban development ministry’s website, 49.5% projects are yet to be initiated.
While, the progress has been good in terms of identification of cities and the use of land for roads, housing, open spaces, business opportunities etc., there are limits to what the government can do and therefore having PPP for some services becomes important. Also, after the initial funding, the cities will have to become self-sustaining and this is where user charges become important. Going forward, one foresees the challenges in the area of implementation and maintenance of physical structures and services.