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Smart Cities: Rebuilding the Indian urban landscape

May 23, 2019
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By Subhashis Mukherjee, Managing Director, M2M Cybernetics Private Limited

The Concept

Smart city is a new version of advanced urban agglomeration. Through smart cities, we are trying to recreate a better standard of living and also resolve the problems which we have created in the process of continuous human habitation.

Differing from state to state, nation to nation owing to the variation in the demographics, economic structure, technology and political environment, smart cities could either be greenfield (start afresh) or brownfield (on existing ones) projects where challenges are different in both the cases.

The brownfield project or the cities with existing infrastructure pose various socio-economic challenges and major problems related to urbanisation like the migration from rural population to cities; growth of urban population resulting in decrease of living spaces, many environmental issues; manageability issues in consumption of natural resources; limitation in utility services; problems of civic amenities, among others.

Meanwhile, the greenfield project or creating a futuristic smart city from scratch poses a different challenge of finding reason on why and how a migrant population could be accommodated by providing not just concretized infrastructure and some hi-tech amenities but also by providing a meaningful option for “livelihood or earning” and by providing better conveniences for relocation.

What will be there in a smart city? What we will achieve through a Smart city?

It is all about high efficiency and optimisation of urban infrastructure and services in a holistic approach.  The goal is to achieve better quality of life and a higher rank in the human development index (HDI). Urban living in smart cities should mean the most cost effective way for a citizen to avail all kinds of services at highest achievable performance. The entire city and its services shall be system driven and process driven. At the same time, the system should be able to eradicate the constraints by maximising the desired factors and minimising undesired ones.

How Smart cities shall be made?

The smart cities will cover the utilisation of information and communication technology, as well as clean energy technologies, for the more efficient management of municipal operations or eGovernance services.

The services of a smart city cover integration in the areas of energy management (as smart grid), water management (as conservation), urban mobility (as intelligent transportation), connected healthcare, smart education, public safety and security, etc.

What are the building blocks of a smart city?

The base layer of a smart city is indeed the technology platform. The city-cockpit could be enabled with a 4CI (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence) centre which could eventually integrate city-surveillance with police, fire department, ambulance etc. Also, it could be SCADA like system which integrates utility smart grids, water, gas and sewerage with other municipal functions. Technology like M2M sensors, RFID, could computing, power line communication, optical fibre, smart metering, wireless, mobile devices, wearable’s, advanced storage/backup/recovery solution and advanced power solutions, etc. will have play a huge role in building the technology plinth of a smart city.

Approaches towards Smart City

There could be various approaches towards developing a smart city. But it would be best to design a smart city keeping in mind the convenience and need of the elderly citizen, ease for the differently abled. The city design should be such that is able to serve to the basic needs of a migrant worker, poor and destitute. It is very important to plan a smart city with a resilience strategy. Any Smart city should have the ability to return to normalcy at the earliest after being affected by a disaster. Smart cities should be designed and planned by studying in depth the demographics, the vulnerability factors of that area so that it could inherit resilience for overcoming any potential epidemic.

Smart Cities Mission (SCM) – the action squad

Earlier in 2015, the government unveiled the Smart Cities Mission (SCM), one of its marquee initiatives aimed at upgrading 100 cities.

The Union government agreed to give each of the cities Rs 1 billion every year for five years, with an equal contribution coming from the state government and the urban local body combined.

In January 2016, 20 cities were announced under the SCM, followed by 13 cities in May 2016, 27 cities in September 2016, 30 cities in June 2017, and 9 cities in January 2018.  With the selection of Shillong, the total proposed investment in the finally selected 100 cities under the SCM would be around Rs 2.05 trillion.

By 2019, the government had approved 5,151 projects worth about Rs 2 trillion under the SCM. As per the SCM report, 715 of the projects have now been completed and another 2,304 are in the process of execution.

SCM indeed is a success today, and it will be fair to say that India is making a genuine progress in redefining its urban landscape and albeit gradually, but efficiently.

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