Making Smart Cities that Grow and Thrive

A Conundrum for Cities

Cities around the world have different governing structures, financial strengths, geographies, populations and natural resources but have common challenges like population growth, accelerating urbanization and stressed infrastructure.

The primary goals of a functioning city should be to improve the quality of life for its citizens by improving the efficiency of city operations, providing for their safety and security while sustaining the environment. 

What is a Smart City?

‘Our definition of a smart city is one that enables decent living for its residents, a clean and sustainable environment and adopts smart solutions to meet these ends.’ – Sh. Venkaiah Naidu, as quoted in The Week Aug 2015.

The scenario for smart cities in India is completely different from most countries. Urban areas deliver up to seventy per cent of India’s GDP, and the population that is moving to urban areas is also growing significantly. The rate of migration to cities is steadily increasing putting city infrastructure under stress. This is one of the concerns being addressed through the smart city movement in India.

 India’s Smart City Program

The Hundred Smart Cities Program of the Government of India is a noteworthy effort to broad-base implementation of smart city technologies across the country. My view of the smart city program is that it is designed to better utilize existing city infrastructure, and scale it to handle inbound population migration. At a macro level, there are several more programs launched to develop towns, create smart villages and so on. The growth of the smartness or the livability index in smaller towns and villages will hopefully start reducing the pressure created by population migrating to cities, at some point in the near future.

 Technology and the Evolving Citizen

While cities evolve, the citizen’s expectations are growing too. The question we hear today is “How does my Smart City benefit me, an ordinary citizen?”

The core elements in a smart city would include adequate and dependable water and electricity supply, access to sanitation, efficient urban mobility and affordable public transport, robust telecom connectivity, affordable quality housing, good e-governance with focus on citizen participation, sustainable environment, health, safety and security of citizens and access to education.

Citizens care about the reliability of the infrastructures they use every day; about the savings they can make by being more resource-efficient in how they use them; about the quality and availability of the public services that are provided to them by the city – all of which can be improved by technology. Technology is now available that can help cities improve quality of urban life, efficiency of city services and add to the economic, social and environmental attractiveness of the city.

Smart Cities must create their vision with citizen engagement. Social media and modern digital technologies can help city managements stay connected with citizens, take their inputs and keep track of how each city initiative is being received. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning systems are now available to manage citizen services and support citizen engagement programs. They provide insights of what is working well or otherwise.

Conclusion

Each city is unique, and citizen needs evolve over time. The most important thing for a smart city is that the city administration identifies key concerns of their city and prioritizes those concerns that directly impact the lives of their citizens. Another important aspect for cities is to understand how to use technology and systems. We need systems that are ‘integrable’, that can interoperate with newer technologies. We must have the vision to build in those capabilities now and not build standalone silos or systems. The need of the hour is the vision to create systems that can scale as cities grow.

By Joy Rajan Cheruvathoor

Former CMO, L&T Smart World & Communication