What Makes A City Smart?
What makes a city, a great place to live and work in? The question is pertinent, given that by 2030, 5 billion people – or about 60% of the world’s entire population – will live in cities. For countries like India and for the leaders who govern this country and plan our cities, not only accommodating the huge inward migration from the urban areas but also a life worth living has become a huge challenge.
People should be able to benefit from urbanization without having to wrestle with aging infrastructure and lack of amenities. Within the process of urbanization, people are struggling to maintain not only their livelihoods but also attain a modicum of happiness. Particularly in this era, everyone wants a better quality of life.
How can one measure this, if at all? What it boils down to is this – the smarter a city is, the happier its inhabitants will be. This is where the concept of Smart Cities came form in the first place, but ‘smartness’ when applied to an urban area is actually a much broader concept.
There are certain counts on which the performance of any city depends: its economy, its population and the social conditions they live in, and its environment. But there is yet another factor that plays a large role in the performance of a city – namely its leaders. A smart city has smart, innovative and resourceful people at the helm.
The inherent qualities of such a smart leadership are that it achieves and maintain smart growth, does more with less and is able to win support for change. A city that doesn’t change is dumb, not smart. Smart city leaders will consistently and successfully push for change.
Of course, every leader wants his city’s economy to grow and flourish. The problem is that economic growth will not always lead towards a better quality of life for citizens – in fact, it can stifle it. We know that in India, economic growth without the benefit of ‘smart direction’ can rapidly lead to compromised infrastructure, unhealthy environment and the unregulated real estate developments in the form of slums and illegally constructed housing.
Smart cities are those that have taken extensive and determined preventive measures against these known side-effects effects of economic growth.
Smart growth is always an outcome of a strategic and well-planned approach. While planning a city, it is essential to keep the needs and demands of its population, now and in the future, first and foremost in mind. Offering tax breaks to tempt newcomers into the city are all very well, but if such initiatives are not accompanied by measures such as pollution control, a forward-looking infrastructure support and timely technological interventions, the city will grow economically but fail as an inhabitable area.
In a smart city, the areas which need the most attention will be the primary focus of its leaders. The first step to this is to recognize the city’s competitive advantages, identify the clusters that are in need of strengthening or nurturing, and apply funding and action into those areas. Even where a city has so far been following a ‘dumb’ approach to growth, such an approach can eventually make it smart. It can become future-ready.
When it comes to cities, one must always plan for change – always plan for the future. Nothing is lost to the past if the future is planned for intelligent change. In the current environment of fast-paced technological innovation and research and development, the path of relying on ‘tried and tested’ formulae of urban planning is the road to extinction.