CEOSPEAK: In quest of smart cities
The focus on managing urbanisation is significant. After China, India accounts for the largest urban population in the world. And India will displace China and contribute the most to the projected increase in the global urban population between 2014 and 2050, according to World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014
Revision, a report released by the United Nations a few months ago.
One of the points the report makes in the context of the global urbanisation trend is that governments should try to achieve a balanced distribution of urban growth, which means that policies should be aimed at promoting the development of intermediate sized cities. These should ensure that the benefits of urbanisation are shared equitably. Migration cannot be restricted, but sustainability is a key word.
The Indian government has rightly anticipated the emergence of the “neo middle class” which has aspiration of better living standards. Taking a major step in its bid to recast the country's urban landscape, the government has taken up a progressive plan to develop 100 smart cities and transform its existing cities. Undeniably, the smart city is an alluring vision of the future which is likely to make cities more livable and inclusive and drive economic growth. The Union Cabinet approved Central government spending worth Rs. 98,000 crore under two new urban missions over the next five years - the Smart Cities Mission under which 100 smart cities would be built and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) for 500 cities with outlays of Rs. 48,000 crore and Rs. 50,000 crore, respectively.
Increased demand for infrastructure, housing, transportation, jobs, energy, food and water are all straining city administrations and infrastructure, as people around the world flock to urban centers in hopes of a better life and more opportunity. Making cities more instrumented, interconnected and intelligent isn't only about overcoming the challenges cities face. It is about recognizing that many of the challenges we face in making a smarter planet are centered on creating sustainable cities. That said if there were ever a time to focus on developing solutions for sustainable cities, that time is now.
In India, as the dialogue on smart cities gathered significant momentum over the last several months, it included a set of benchmarks. From health, education, electricity to transport, water supply, sanitation to solid waste, telecom etc.
As the union urban development minister has been repeatedly emphasising, smart
cities would essentially mean smart people on the one hand and smart governance on the other. The question is whether our city governance system is ready for the big challenge.
The single major challenge facing the country's urban renewal and development is the lack of skilled workforce. An assessment by the Indian Urban Space Foundation stated that India requires about 40,000 urban planners compared to approximately 3,000 registered with the Institute of Town Planners, India. Few institutes in India have new-age programmes that integrate architecture, engineering, management, geographic information systems, environment, economics, sociology, geography and urban governance.
At present, Indian cities struggle to provide even basic facilities such as water, transportation, solid waste management and sewage treatment to residents. McKinsey reports that the quality of urban services will deteriorate sharply by 2030, if present trends persist. For example, while cities required 83 billion litres of water per day in 2007, the supply was only 56 billion litres. By 2030, the supply will be 95 billion litres while the demand will rise to 189 billion litres. Similarly, while the supply of affordable housing in 2007 was five million units, the demand was 30 million units. In 2030, the supply will be 12 million units versus demand for 50 million units. The gap in other service sectors, that is solid waste management, sewage and transportation will be similar. To manage this, India will require an additional investment of $1.2 trillion, McKinsey estimates. Smart cities propose to manage these and other urban issues through technology interventions at different levels.
Nasscom in its recent report regarding smart city mission said ICT framework suggested by it will address the unique challenges faced by Indian cities and provide an integrated perspective across the key pillars of physical infrastructure, social infrastructure, environmental and institutional (governance). While Nasscom perspective is appreciated, we should be careful as cities become more connected; their systems - from traffic lights to utilities meters are increasingly open to hackers. According to a recent The Guardian article, a leading internet security researcher has warned that the smart cities of the future could be more vulnerable to hackers than the computers and smartphones of today. Last year, Cesar Cerrudo, an Argentine security researcher, pointed out critical vulnerabilities in America's so-called smart cities, where wireless sensors control a growing portion of city infrastructure from traffic lights to water and waste management systems.
The smart city concept holds an array of opportunities for future of cities and city making in India. Smart cities is a process rather than as a static outcome, in which increased citizen engagement, hard infrastructure, social capital and digital technologies make cities more livable, resilient and better able to respond to challenges. The concept of live and work has already been engrained in the philosophy of smart cities. Incubation and startup ecosystems are still at a very nascent stage in India and the sustainability model is still being figured out. Indian cities need urban solutions which are affordable by citizens. Therefore, we need frugal innovation suitable to Indian conditions, lifestyle and affordability.
We are at the threshold of an exciting new India where 'Smart City' is a significant phenomenon. It is a rallying concept for all of us to work together to transform our future. *