What De­fines a Smart City?

Voice&Data - - COVER STORY - Subir Mehra

Afew decades ago, the sup­port­ing phys­i­cal, so­cial and bu­reau­cratic in­fra­struc­ture —ev­ery­thing from town plan­ning to education to polic­ing—could de­velop or­gan­i­cally at the same pace. That is no longer the case. Leapfrog­ging straight from the rice paddy to the dig­i­tal econ­omy suc­cess­fully re­quires plan­ning, fore­thought, and con­sul­ta­tion with prospec­tive em­ploy­ers.

The key to suc­cess lies not in the hard­ware or soft­ware, which are widely avail­able, but peo­ple­ware: Cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment that will at­tract and re­tain the sort of ed­u­cated work­ers needed to staff the fa­cil­i­ties. Ul­ti­mately, the phys­i­cal at­tributes of the smart city en­vi­ron­ment mir­ror the mind­set of the par­tic­i­pants— for­ward-look­ing, modernist and open to new op­por­tu­ni­ties. And that means the young, ur­ban and as­pi­ra­tional. Em­pow­ered by their be­lief that the avail­abil­ity of cheap tech­nol­ogy will make the fu­ture more mer­i­to­cratic, they want to work in en­vi­ron­ments that sup­port their am­bi­tion and al­low them a can­vas to ex­press their new self-con­fi­dence. About 13 mn young boys and girls join In­dia’s work force ev­ery year, who are as­pi­ra­tional, de­mand­ing and open to work with the lat­est tech­nol­ogy.

Gov­ern­ments across the emerg­ing mar­kets have long un­der­stood the the­o­ret­i­cal value of smart cities, but their in­ter­pre­ta­tion of what con­sti­tutes a smart city is be­com­ing ex­po­nen­tially more am­bi­tious. A con­cept that started out look­ing like Cy­ber­jaya in Malaysia— a wired com­mu­nity with a sci­ence park at its heart—has grown in am­bi­tion and now looks like the plans for the city of Visakha­p­at­nam or Vizag in In­dia.

Dur­ing the lat­est visit of US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, In­dia and the US have agreed for tak­ing quick mea­sures to build three smart cities—Vizag, Al­la­habad and Ajmer.

A new smart city to­day em­braces not just tech­nol­ogy, but education, se­cu­rity, cul­ture, and par­tic­u­larly en­vi­ron­ment in all its senses. The panel of ex­perts dis­cussing the ‘smart city’ con­cept in case of Vizag talked of green power gen­er­a­tion dis­trib­uted with­out power poles and “sci­en­tific prun­ing of trees, and (a) walk­a­ble city built for peo­ple and not for cars”.

In the past, ur­ban busi­ness plan­ning in emerg­ing mar­kets was too of­ten a case of cre­at­ing a bleak ‘in­dus­trial zone’ on a city out­skirts, haunted by carts serv­ing in­dif­fer­ent food, un­sup­ported by any co­her­ent pub­lic trans­port sys­tem dur­ing the day and in­tim­i­dat­ing at night, es­pe­cially for fe­male work­ers.

But knowl­edge work­ers seek a short, safe com­mute from care­fully planned and well-lit res­i­den­tial spa­ces to en­vi­ron­men­tally re­spon­si­ble of­fices in green sur­round­ings with restau­rants and retail nearby; they want the elec­tric­ity that drives their wire­less devices to come from power sta­tions that are not poi­son­ing the air they breathe; and they want a cul­tural ex­is­tence that re­flects and feeds their con­nected in­ter­na­tional out­look.

The young­sters want cab ser­vices be­ing tracked by GPS mech­a­nism, WiFi zones con­nect­ing them to the world through smart­phones, read­ily avail­able health­care sup­port sys­tems for them and their fam­i­lies and web-en­abled emer­gency help re­quest ser­vices.

Al­though it is pos­si­ble to build a sin­gle call cen­ter or a doc­u­ment pro­cess­ing fa­cil­ity al­most any­where, build­ing a self­sus­tain­ing set-up re­mains a chal­lenge. In­creas­ingly, plan­ners are look­ing at green- or brown-field sites on the edge of ex­ist­ing ur­ban cen­tres to start anew, build­ing a mod­ern com­mer­cial cen­ter that com­ple­ments an ex­ist­ing city.

For plan­ners, that means think­ing on a city-sized scale, a multi-di­men­sional chal­lenge that brings in el­e­ments of res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment, health in­fra­struc­ture; en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, polic­ing, power, roads, trans­port, retail, and many other fields.

And fi­nally, education is crit­i­cal, not just to at­tract high-qual­ity staff that can de­mand the best for their chil­dren, but also to equip the next gen­er­a­tion with the lan­guages and skills that will al­low them to grow up to take over the ba­ton of growth from their par­ents.

The Elec­tronic City out­side Ben­galuru, Gur­gaon and Noida out­side Delhi, Hin­je­w­adi in Pune or Cy­ber­abad out­side Hyderabad could also work as case stud­ies to build mod­ern or smart habi­tats.

The na­tions and cities that can cre­ate en­vi­ron­ments that cater to the needs of the young and the as­pi­ra­tional will at­tract both the new en­trepreneur­s and the in­ter­na­tional em­ploy­ers who can to­gether cre­ate self-sus­tain­ing cy­cles of growth—through in­vest­ments and job op­por­tu­ni­ties.

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