Smart Cities- A panacea for urban future?

Urbanization is one of the key socio-economic trends of the next decade. It is predicted that by 2050 about 64 per cent of the developing world and 86 per cent of the developed world will be urbanized. This rapid urbanization has cities at the core of the world growth agenda. Competitiveness of nations is turning into competitiveness of cities. Attractiveness of cities depends on effectiveness of city’s economic, environmental and social services. India itself is expected to witness an increase in urban population from 377 million in 2011 to 600 million (twice the current population of the United States) in 2031. Given these numbers, the country is expected to have around 68 cities with population of more than 1 million by 2030. This rapid urbanization is putting up additional pressure on Indian cities which are already struggling to deliver basic city services and infrastructure to citizens and businesses due to lack of robust urban planning mechanism, infrastructure development and investments.

With burning need to improve a nation and a city’s competitiveness, many nations around the world have taken up smart cities initiatives to improve competitiveness of its cities. There is a growing need to embrace innovative approaches to new city development and city management. Rapid advances in technology will only make it more feasible.

What is a smart city?

A smart city effectively delivers public services to citizens and businesses wherever they may be located, in an integrated and resource-efficient way while enabling innovative collaborations to improve the quality of life, reduce any detrimental impact on environment, grow the local and national economy and ensure safety and emergency compliances.

Some successful global smart cities initiatives are outlined below:

Singapore

Long-term planning and strategic partnerships with leading universities and corporations, and substantial government investments in both money and manpower have enabled Singapore to transform the city into one of the most innovative, sustainable and tech-savvy cities on the planet. Every 10 years since 1971, Singapore issues a concept plan with a 40-50-year time frame. Every five years, most recently in 2008, it issued more detailed plans on smart growth. On the city’s streets, a network of sensors, cameras and GPS devices embedded in taxi cabs track traffic, predict future congestion alerting all downtown drivers to alternate routes. Singapore’s advanced system on congestion pricing utilizes traffic data to adjust prices in real-time and drivers’ accounts are automatically deducted as they glide beneath electronic gantries. The city’s water management system is among the world’s most advanced, and the government is testing a new desalination technology for seawater that would be 50 percent more energy efficient than any current method. A superfast, next-generation broadband network already reaches 95 percent of homes and businesses in Singapore.

Dubai

After focusing the initial 10 years on physical infrastructure and its modernization, Dubai embarked on a smart city program across three tracks – smart life, smart economy and smart tourism. The six key initiatives included: 1) Open and easy access to data shared among residents and institutions with smart boards for residents to obtain information about the city; 2) A central control center to monitor and manage traffic throughout the city; 3) ‘Smart Electrical Grid’ program to encourage residents to use solar energy and sell the surplus to the Authority; 4) Smart parks and beaches that will provide relevant information such as safety instructions, weather and sea conditions, temperature and more; 5) Police smartphone to enable residents to make reports and enquiries without having to travel down to a police station; 6) World’s largest 5D control room, which will be the central operation center to oversee all government projects and monitor real-time situations in the city, including emergencies, road conditions, weather, etc.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam Smart City (ASC) started in 2009 as a collaboration project between Amsterdam Innovation Motor and the grid operator Liander, in close collaboration with the municipality of Amsterdam. Today, the project involves over 70 different partners. Amsterdam is focusing on the challenge of saving energy to reduce CO2 emissions. To do this, ASC has introduced and tested a vast amount of energy saving projects, divided into four areas: sustainable public space, sustainable mobility, sustainable living and sustainable working. Some of the key projects included smart meters, energy sensors, use of electrical vehicles, etc.

Birmingham

Birmingham Smart City program is led by the Birmingham Smart City Commission, a body created by the city council which includes leading figures from the business, academic and public sector. It is a collective ambition by city stakeholders to deliver real change by developing intelligent and integrated services through the use of digital technologies, data and open collaboration, driven by the citizens and communities that are core to the city’s future growth. The roadmap comprises 39 proposed actions like free community Wi-Fi, eHealth services, smart metering, etc., to be delivered over the next three years, by identifying funding through European, national and regional programs.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog which will focus on –a) What is India’s play in the realm of smart cities b) Can India follow any of the above examples to build its smart city program, and c) Is there a unique framework needed for India.

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