A 'Smart City' should encompass truly smart ideas that would be able to take on the key challenges often faced by people in urban areas, says Sapna Seth, Associate Director, Singhi Advisors.
Like the term 'middle-class', the term 'Smart City' also lacks a definitive definition with many seeking to define it on their own terms. A coherent definition eludes both. Having said so, just as we know how the term 'middle-class' is loosely defined, Smart Cities can be defined as sustainable cities with self-containing amenities and infrastructure which give a decent quality of life to the citizens.
In late August 2015, the Indian government announced a list of 100 cities which would become Smart Cities over the next five years, with an initial government investment of Rs 50,000 crore. Since taking charge, the Smart City Mission is one of the key projects, like Digital India, announced by the Modi government. There's no doubt that the idea is innovative as it offers a perfect solution for the many problems that cripple our cities and urban locales. Smart Cities, if properly implemented in their true meaning and entirety, can enhance the quality of life for citizens in a long-term and sustainable way by the deft blending of smart solutions.
The idea was to achieve the target of creating 100 Smart Cities by 2022. But the ambitious project may not be complete by the set deadline, given the daunting task at hand.
The very idea of a Smart City should encompass truly smart ideas that would be able to take on the key challenges often faced by people in urban areas. Electronically operated toilets, sewage treatment plants that would convert solid waste and wastewater into useable energy, smart use of renewable energy to light up streets and public institutions, the deft use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) solutions such as intelligent street poles, intelligent transit management systems, multi-purpose smart cards for all modes of public transport systems, etc., are some of the components that would truly revolutionise the smart cities of the future. For the government, the focus is on sustainable and inclusive development and the whole idea should revolve around creating a model that can be replicated across the country. Adequate water and electricity supply, sanitation (including solid waste management), efficient urban mobility and public transport, affordable housing, robust IT connectivity and digitalisation, etc., are some of the essential components that make a city truly smart.
Institutional capacity can be enhanced through a tripartite framework under which local government is given financial and technical support in lieu of undertaking specific governance reforms and setting up institutional structures like a central control station with representation from all the departments, having a common database for sharing of data and so forth.
In order to solve technical capacity constraints, it is essential to leverage private partnerships and outsourcing arrangements for implementation, operation and maintenance. The authorities can think of adopting cloud-based models for implementing Internet and communication technology as it effectively uses the services of private players. Financial constraints, initial investment cost for Internet and communication technology concerned applications, which are anyway significantly lower than associated network level infrastructure, can be reduced and recovered in a phased manner.
The government needs to look at the issue holistically. First of all, Big Data analytics and Internet of Things (IoT) play crucial roles in making every aspect of a Smart City a true reality. So even as ensuring constant funding that would make Smart Cities a reality, the authorities have to ensure that Big Data and IoT are deployed effectively in order to build the Smart Cities of the future.
The civic planning authorities have to work with those global tech giants which have been working with universities to develop data-driven systems for transport, waste management, law enforcement, and energy use.
How can Big Data help us build future Smart Cities? Big data, for example, can reduce emissions and bring down pollution. Sensors fitted in the roads can measure the total traffic at different times of a day and the total emissions, which will in turn help the police to regulate traffic accordingly. Traffic can be managed or diverted along other less-congested areas to reduce carbon emissions in such places.
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) should be used for the management and regulation of traffic. Smart energy grids should be deployed, which sense the number of people in a particular area (parks, etc.,) at a given time, and adjust the use of streetlights accordingly. The holistic and productive use of IoT and Big Data can create sustainable and future-oriented Smart Cities.
A few facts
Some of the key components that can revolutionise India by the smart adoption of ICT are:
Information and Communications Technology
Broadband connections are expected to touch 175 million users by 2017. The cloud computing market is expected to reach $3 billion by 2016 ù an almost fivefold increase from 2012.
Security and Surveillance
Under the flagship safe city project, the government has proposed a corpus of $333 million to make seven big cities (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Hyderabad) to focus on technological advancement instead of manpower.
Smart Transportation: The government has approved a $4.13 billion plan to spur electric and hybrid vehicle production by setting an ambitious target of six million vehicles by 2020. There will be electric vehicle charging stations in all urban areas and along all state and national highways by 2027.
Smart buildings: India can emerge as the world's third largest construction market by 2020, by adding 11.5 million homes every year. The intelligent building systems market is around $621 million and is expected to reach $1,891 million by 2016, a Compounded Average Growth Rate (CAGR) of 24.93 per cent from 2011 to 2016. Smart buildings would save up to 30 per cent of water usage, 40 per cent of energy usage and reduction of building maintenance costs by 10 to 30 per cent.
The Ministry of Urban Development plans to invest more than $20 billion on the various Metro rail projects in coming years. The proposed 534 km Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail project will have an investment of around $10.5 billion. India's first monorail project at Mumbai will cost around $500 million of which $183 million has been spent on Phase 1.
About The Author
Sapna Seth is Associate Director, Singhi Advisors.