Smart Cities – The urban tomorrow

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Smart-city_Cover-StoryIn its election manifesto, the BJP had promised to build 100 hi-tech, smart cities, and the Modi-led NDA government seems only keen to fulfill that promise, writes Nirmal Anshu Ranjan of ENN

Indian cities are today home to about 31 percent of the total population, i.e. about 410 million people live in urban areas, suggests the headcount of 2011. Of this, half the number resides in metro cities, thereby putting excessive stress on the urban infrastructures, including housing, water, energy, transportation and other services.

Another study by apex industry body Assocham recently said the urban population of India grew by 2.8 percent during the 2001-2011 decade, adding over 9.1 crore people annually to the country’s population in cities. At this whopping growth rate, the urban population is expected to grow up to 590 million by 2030, accounting for nearly 40 percent of India’s population as compared to the present 31 percent or 410 million.

In other words, the next 30-40 years will see an unprecedented transformation in the urban landscape; in fact, impacts of this new phase of urbanisation on the existing urban infrastructure and resources are already being felt.

But, with necessity invariably playing the inventor, the rapid urbanisation has also spurred innovations in urban design, technologies and services, which have together culminated in the concept of Smart City, where synergy of people with space, ecology and infrastructure leads to economic growth and happy living.

Even globally, the concept of smart cities –  where infrastructure network and delivery of services are more efficient across telecommunication, logistics, water and gas supply—is being looked upon as a possible solution to the swelling urban population and the problems that come along.

Today, it is possible to create smart cities with intelligent networks that manage basic citizen services and create living spaces—instead of sprawling concrete jungles—that are walkable, bikeable and above all, liveable.

What makes a city smart?

A smart city is essentially a technology-driven urban space. Here, the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is applied to the built environment, which not only addresses the common city problems like congestion and wasted energy, but also helps stimulate the much-needed economic growth and job creation.

Such a city empowers its citizens with the right tools to connect to the right information through data aggregated from various sources like electronic sensors, general statistics, social networks, etc. It helps its people become informed citizens and take part in policymaking and service developments in their surroundings.

Furthermore, a smart city has no barriers between sectors like energy, transport, ICT, water, waste management and healthcare, as integration of these sectors can bring benefits to all of those and deliver better living experience to the people.

Smart Cities and India

  • The concept is still quite new in India, although it has received a lot of attention in the last few years
  • Several Indian cities have already begun deploying a few smart technologies to efficiently provide civic services
  • Cities such as Hyderabad, Surat, Coimbatore, Bengaluru, Mangalore, Jamshedpur, Kanpur, Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai have launched initiatives related to deployment of advanced communications systems, metro rail systems, traffic management systems, smart meters, GPRS for solid waste management, GIS to manage property tax, online water quality monitoring, online building plan approval schemes, etc
  • Several new smart cities – Kochi Smart City, Gujarat International Finance Tec-City and Lavasa – are being developed as model cities through private sector participation
  • Seven smart cities are under development by states with foreign aid as part of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC); work on two of these has begun; 24 new cities by 2040 have been planned under the project
  • The Narendra Modi government has unveiled plans to develop 100 smart cities across the country; made an allocation of Rs 7,060 crore for development of 100 smart cities in the Union Budget 2014-15

Water-energy saver:

Consumption of scarce resources like water and energy is also optimised through advanced technologies and high-tech devices. Installation of smart water meters helps monitor and reduce wastage in the system, saving 10-15 percent water per household.
Similarly, smart grids fitted with sensors and instrumentation improve distribution network efficiency, and in conjunction with smart metering, those help match energy demand and supply. Better energy management systems also help people automate the energy-consuming systems in buildings, and building sensors and controls pinpoint the faults.

There is also stress on the use of renewable sources of energy, like solar power and waste- to-energy generation, so as to conserve the natural sources of energy, as also the environment through lesser emission of green house gases.

Moving cities:

Coming to people’s movement, smart cards can link multiple modes of public transport, making it convenient for both users and transport personnel, who can understand mobility patterns. Real-time transport displays can provide visibility and information on availability of public transports to users, thus, encouraging uptake of mass transportation, and also give information on condition of traffic on various routes accurately.

Smart cities are visualised to have an integrated transit corridor, where BRT, metro and trains are linked with pedestrian and cycle lanes. Personalised rapid transit systems use pods that can carry people directly from point to point, with no stop and no waiting at stations.
Metro, trains, subway and primary roads run underground for easy bike and pedestrian movement. Subterranean parking spaces near commuter destinations reduce the need for ground parking. Digital parking meters send information to mobile-phones when a space opens up, thus reducing traffic caused by drivers trolling for space.

Centralised control:

Centralised control centres through sensors and CCTV cameras are known to play a pivotal role in smart cities. They can provide real-time inputs on availability of water, electricity, public transport, healthcare and education. Smooth passage of traffic and public safety is also ensured from the control room itself. Intelligent communication tools enable administrators to manage and respond to emergencies faster.
Such cities use technology to transform their core systems and optimise the return from limited resources.

A trillion-dollar opportunity

With more and more people streaming into cities in search of better opportunities for education and employment, and urban spaces turning into engines of growth, urbanisation is a reality – for now and for the foreseeable future.
So, it will be only in the fitness of things not to look upon urbanisation as a challenge; rather it should be treated as an opportunity to raise infrastructures and generate employment for all-round prosperity and well-being of the people at large.

It was realisation of this very urbanisations purred necessity to create more cities to accommodate the increasing number of urban masses that led the government to pumping huge money into the project to create numerous smart cities along the Delhi  Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC). The planners are looking to change the economic face of the nation through the world’s largest infrastructure project. When completed, the US$ 90bn project will have 24 new hi-tech cities along nearly 1,500 km course of the corridor, improving the living standards of about 180 million people.

Incidentally, one initiative to develop a smart township in the country has been undertaken by the Wave Inc in Ghaziabad of UP, with technical know how from the IBM. Clean water, energy, transportation, public safety, education and healthcare in the Wave City will be integrated by a central command centre and managed by smart devices using sensors and other intelligent communication tools. It will record and respond to events faster and anticipate and prevent problems. A resident’s smart device will be alerted to traffic conditions or residents can check park- ing availability, or even a natural disaster like flooding.

The NDA government has made an allocation of Rs 7,060 crore in the Union Budget for developing of as many as 100 new smart cities across the country.

The govt push

The erstwhile two UPA governments had spoken of their intention to develop at least two smart cities in each state equipped with a host of modern features — intelligent transport, e-services and carbon neutral status — under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). Since the existing mega cities are groaning under the weight of lack of planning and mismanagement, it had planned to develop medium-size cities with half-a- million to one million population.

But with the ascension of the Narendra Modi-led NDA to the seat of power in Delhi, the proposed creation of smart cities seems to have got a fresh impetus. In keeping with its promise made in the election manifesto, the new government has made an allocation of Rs 7,060 crore for development of 100 smart cities in the Union Budget 2014-15.
Besides, with an eye on both creating and strengthening infrastructure in the country, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has also proposed setting up of an institution called ‘3P India’ with a corpus of Rs 500 crore. This will help in mainstreaming public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the smart cities segment, among others.

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