The Smart City mission is not just ambitious and exciting – it’s about time for a country like India. But as we keep moving forward, we need to keep acknowledging, and addressing, some blind spots and potholes on this path
The Eiffel Tower is made up of almost 18,000 unwieldy parts. Alexandre G Eiffel pioneered the curtain wall construction approach inside the tower – which holds the massive structure. Complex engineering is a marvel even today.
The future of the Smart Cities Mission in India will depend on such detailed planning which lays the foundations.
Design and Execution
It took more time for Mr. Eiffel to design the tower than to erect it– approximately two years with no mishaps.
Are the Indian Smart Cities coming together well?
An ORF report last year flagged the slow progress in implementing the Smart Cities Mission as a concern.
The delays have a domino effect – life comes to a halt due to digging and endless constructions. Available data, as pointed out in the ORF report, highlights delays in projects at Amaravati, Bhagalpur, Muzaffarpur, and Shillong.
According to PwC reports, there are some notable barriers to commissioning smart cities in India. One big one is the presence of rigid master plans.
For a developing country like India paucity of funds due to pressing priorities like Covid, agricultural distress, infrastructure is a big issue, says Dr. Nityesh Bhatt, Professor, and Chairperson, Information Management Area, Institute of Management, Nirma University, Ahmedabad.
There are challenges that keep emerging with smart city projects across the globe.
Consider what Steve Wray, Sr. Vice President, and Principal, ESI EConsult Solutions Inc. says. “Our research of smart city strategies around the world has revealed the most advanced smart cities all progress through 4 key steps.
They leverage the latest technology, make data a strategic asset, work closely with partners outside of government and engage their citizens and employees.
Ankur Bisen Management Consultant & Author of ‘Wasted- The Messy Story of Sanitation in India, A Manifesto for Change’ raises the issue around waste management – a critical component. “It’s a long haul. I will not say that progress has not been made, but I would add that it has been patchy.” There are positive outcomes in the areas of plastic waste, tire waste, e-waste management, solid waste management tools, and policies.
“It’s a long haul. I will not say that progress has not been made, but I would add that it has been patchy. It has been in pockets,” says Ankur Bisen Management Consultant & Author of ‘Wasted- The Messy Story of Sanitation in India, A Manifesto for Change’ Communication with citizens has become fundamental to providing lifesaving information, and cities with strong data analysis tools have been better prepared to map and track outbreaks.
Bisen feels Indore has shown good evolution and best practices.
People – The Duct Tape We Can’t-Miss
A fundamental argument is an attention to the bottom-of-pyramid level.
Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) highlighted in a report – “the critical question is whether the country should first focus on creating 100 high-tech urban enclaves or on prioritizing—for every resident— the provision of sufficient and potable water; adequate sanitation services; the highest attainable standard of health; adequate and secure housing; a clean and healthy environment; safe spaces to play, walk, and work in; accessible public transport; and security for women, minorities, and children?
There is, thus, a need to evaluate the validity of the Smart Cities Mission as well as the model of development that it envisages.”
..the presence of livable cities will be the measure of our future survival of the cascading nexus of climate impacts, recurring pandemics, and precipitous inequality.
Excerpts from an audio-book by Mark Alan Hughes is Faculty Director, Penn’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy; Professor of Practice, City and Regional Planning, Weitzman School of Design; and a Penn IUR Faculty Fellow.
“A more balanced urban-rural development approach would have led to greater equity and social justice. This would also be more in line with the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030.”
The ability to embrace technology in a seamless and data-friendly way is key.
As the HLRN report mentions – “an overreliance on ‘smart systems’ to run critical infrastructure or centralized electronic grids, could result in serious problems when such systems crash. The consolidated electronic databases of information could give rise to privacy and security concerns, including identity theft and increased surveillance by the state and other agencies.”
India is not the first country to confront skepticism and backlash about smart cities. Similar experiences and local resistance have pervaded smart-city programs in Toronto (especially the Sidewalk Labs Project), New York, Ross, California. Most of these fears emerged around the use of technology like facial recognition.
When it comes to technology, there cannot be a ‘One Size Fits All Model’ argues Dr. Bhatt“technology can only supplement governance, it cannot be a substitute.”
ESIEconsult Solutions notes that in 2022, it is imperative to view investments in quality of place more broadly. Any city or country is as smart as its people/ society. “In my opinion, the key challenge in India’s Smart City Initiative is a societal attitude,” says Dr. Bhatt. With public participation, we can sustain development.
By Pratima H