December 2010

In urban millennium, with smart cities

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There has been a rapid growth of urbanisation worldwide in the past 50 years. According to the UN State of the World Population 2007 report, a majority of people worldwide will be living in towns or cities, a phenomenon the UN referred to as the arrival of the ‘urban millennium.’ The UN World Urbanisation Prospects report finds that the proportion of urban population rose dramatically from 13 percent (220 million) in 1900, to 29 percent (732 million) in 1950, to 49 percent (3.2 billion) in 2005 and is likely to rise to 60 percent (4.9 billion) by 2030. The increase in urbanisation creates vast pressure in the capacity of the cities to provide services such as energy, education, healthcare, transportation, sanitation and physical security.

There is an urgent need for cities to apply advanced information technology and analytics to develop a more citizen-centric approach to services in the competitive economic environment of today.

While industrial infrastructure such as rails, roads, and telephone lines were the cornerstones of development in the previous centuries, 21st century is marked by growth of information technologies. Today, urban planners and developers, and governments and industries can use technologies to transform their cities for enhancing the quality of life of citizens and for sustainable urbanisation.

It is in this backdrop that the concept of ‘smart city’ has evolved to deal with the challenges that rapid urbanisation is posing. A smart city is about the use of technologies and new models to make cities more productive, efficient and responsive. It envisions the use of information and the network as the underlying platform, to plan and build an efficient city that touches every aspect-transportation, commerce, education, public safety and security, water, sanitation, healthcare, environment and governance. Smart cities are therefore, the future cities that countries are aspiring for, where everything will be connected, intelligent and green: from office buildings, homes, cars, public transport, hospitals and schools to policing.

The world’s most advanced city is being constructed in Portugal. An important feature of this city is that the road pavement is specially treated to allow it to use as energy the natural sunlight and the friction heat that is generated by cars travelling on it. The roads are also equipped with sensors that measure the amount of traffic.

India, too, is on the road to building smart cities—world-class, self-sustainable habitats with minimal pollution levels, maximum recycling, optimised energy supplies and efficient public transportation. The pilot projects to develop the ‘smart communities’ are underway in Haryana, Gujarat and Maharashtra. In this endeavour to transform the rapidly growing urban areas into smarter cities, a collaborative partnership between government, industry, academia,and civil society will the pave way for attainment of this dream.

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