Indian Cities: Need for going beyond Smart Cities

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Given the pent up demand for living a better quality of life, it won’t be surprising to witness new cities in India getting swamped by migrants, for which the country need to have better planning, believes Jaijit Bhattacharya, Government Transformation Expert and Partner, KPMG

When cities such as Singapore were built, labour was brought in from neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and from Bangladesh. Once the construction work got over, the labour went back from where they came. The outcome was a clean, manageable city with a current population of 5.5 million.

When cities in China were being built, the labour came from the hinterland and once the cities got built, the labour had to leave the city as per the Hukou system, which only permits certified residents to have access to the city facilities. This ensures that the mass urban migration is controlled and the cities are manageable.

However, when the proposed Smart Cities in India get developed, Indian cities will not have any mechanism to prevent mass migration from swamping the city and ultimately destroying them. We have seen this happen in the past where in cities like Kolkata were swamped by migrations, especially during the 1943 famine. Given the pent up demand for better quality cities arising from an aspiration for better quality of life, it is easy to see why new cities will soon get swamped by migrants.

Hence, any planning of a new city in India will require consideration of issues such as Massive Urban Migration (MUM) that requires infrastructure creation in an unprecedented scale for a transient phenomenon. Such infrastructure include city social infrastructure such as migrant worker hostels, women’s hostels, infrastructure for the elderly, crèches and their accompanying regulatory framework and governmental institution formulations. The presence of this kind of infrastructure will allow greater unlocking of the economic potential of key segments of the population such as migrant workers, women and young workers who have dependent elders.

The expected MUM will be of a scale that has not been witnessed ever in the history of humankind and in the absence of city’s upgrading to become Next Generation Cities, will lead to significant curtailment of economic growth and considerable human misery. From an Indian perspective, pressing issues such as social infrastructure, religious infrastructure, regulatory frameworks for technology enabled safety, technology enabled security, energy provisioning etc are of very high importance when designing the Next Generation Cities.

Therefore, it is necessary to gear up the city for issues such as religious infrastructure, disaster management, energy consumption monitoring and other issues related to large scale infusion of a diverse population. Again, in the absence of preparedness, one can expect social problems leading to loss of economic productivity.

In order to support the smooth functioning of a Next Generation City, it is essential to have Urban Analytics that will help in all the above city management issues and help provide personalized governance to the city’s businesses and people.

Issues such as social infrastructure, religious infrastructure, regulatory frameworks for technology enabled safety, technology enabled security, energy provisioning etc are of very high importance when designing the Next Generation Cities in India

In addition, there are certain basic aspects of city planning that is driven by the nature of industry that the city would like to support. So, if a city has to support innovation industries or say IT/ITES industry, it needs to have the infrastructure that would attract the set of people who contribute to the creation of such industries. In the case of IT/ITES, the city would need to cater to young people and their lifestyle and expectations. That would mean the infrastructure planning has to be radically different so that the right talent gets attracted which in turn would pull the IT/ITES industry to the city. Overall, cities need open community spaces which are generally lacking in Indian cities. These spaces contribute to the emotional connect of the people to the city, which helps in individuals investing into the city which in turn leads to higher economic activity.

Thus, a mere technology enablement of the Indian cities would not suffice for the creation of Next Generation in Cities. We would need to overhaul the administrative structure, bring in additional regulatory frameworks and incorporate certain principles of city planning that are unique to India and to perhaps some other fast growing economies.

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