Smart cities are the architect of our future in the digital age. A decade ago while we were still talking about the advent of smart phones, through a series of parallel technological developments globally the concept of smart cities came into formulation. If technological advancements were the driving force behind smart cities, the catalyst for the idea can be traced to the rapid urbanization in today’s age.

According to the World Health Organization, urban residents accounted for 54 per cent of the total global population in 2014, and that figure was projected to grow nearly 2 per cent each year until 2020. India is no exception in this regard and as per a United Nations report we will witness the largest increase in urban population in the next four decades. This staggering growth means that cities will face increasing challenges comprising congested transport, underdeveloped physical, social or economic infrastructure and lack of access to public services. There is an emerging need for the cities to get smarter in India so that it is equipped to tackle the issues related with the rapidly increasing large scale urbanization.

A smart, connected community improves the functioning of the essential institutions that make for a healthy and thriving community. Smart city solutions include but are not limited to lighting, parking, traffic, education, healthcare, safety and security. Though the vision of Smart Cities in India is incredible, its implementation needs to be designed wisely with special emphasis on engaging citizens, to leverage maximum success. In fact, citizen engagement is considered the most crucial aspect in making a city smart and is the backbone of smart city development.

The Indian Government partnered with Bloomberg Philanthropies to formulate a unique competition to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens and promote the adoption of smart solutions. The Challenge marks the first time, central government funds were distributed through a competitive process to advance a major urban development mission. The India Smart Cities Challenge encouraged cities to work with local citizens to identify and impact future growth, jobs, and the quality of life in our urban areas. Cities across the country formulated their own unique vision, mission and Smart City proposal.

In January 2016, the first 20 Smart Cities were selected from amongst 98 mission proposals. The winning proposals clearly outlined the benefits of our cities and citizens working together to address key priorities and challenges to develop necessary solutions.

The new spirit of competition among cities and states, the enthusiasm and vigour demonstrated by the citizens as well as the clarity of thought about outcomes and actions to be taken was clearly visible in the subsequent Fast Track Competition conducted for 23 cities. 13 more Smart Cities were selected based on their substantially improved plans and the benchmarks set by the top performers of the first round. The cities that participated in the competition improved the quality of smart city plans by over 25% to become eligible for selection.

In a bid to become Smart, cities are engaging citizens in new and exciting ways, developing stronger Smart City proposals, which are vital to India’s future. On MyGov, the government portal for citizen engagement, 2.5 million Indians submitted their thoughts, suggestions, and ideas for improving their own areas and quality of life. Bhopal and Indore both saw over 170,000 people contribute their ideas online.

Jaipur was one of theearly adopters of Smart City and are actively engaged in transforming the govrnance in the city. In cities like Pune and Delhi the citizens are contributing to their Smart City Plan by addressing key priorities and concerns around infrastructure and resource development.

With citizen participation driving the rise of smart cities in India, urbanisation which was earlier considered a challenge, is now considered an opportunity to mitigate poverty. People in the economic field consider cities as a growth centre. Embracing digital solutions have strengthened the cities through comprehensive and inter-connected approach combined with increased public participation.

With the vision of Digital India in place and a vision that cities of the future will be built based on the availability of optical fibre networks and next-generation infrastructure, it is definite that smart cities are the blueprint of our future.

Puneet Gupta – Former Managing Director, Cisco Systems India



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