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Change Must Come through Building Smart Cities 


Change Must Come through Building Smart Cities 

This evergreen article from Surpiya Sen demonstrates how our cities can be transformed into smart cities that are moving into a new age of connectivity and technology, sustainability and inclusivity with the ability to weather this new age of environmental and economic challenges.

We’ve heard much about Smart Cities by now. India’s ambitious initiative to fund the creation of 100 pilot smart cities is intended to accelerate the modification of existing cities across the length and breadth of the country to become “smart”- where digital technologies work for all, enabling efficient provision of clean energy, potable water, affordable housing, minimized waste in a closed-loop, and universal access to tools of modern finance. Aim is sustainable resource utilization, increased resilience of people and communities including animals and plants, and reduced pollutants while meeting demands in a cost-effective and inclusive manner. Is this too ambitious an agenda, or can emerging digital technologies really help forestall problems and engender solutions?

I had opportunity to discuss this topic recently with a group “Smart Cities Network” – hosted by HP Enterprise, one of the many technology platform providers competing to be the de-facto standard for deployment in ‘smart cities’ in India and elsewhere. (my slideshare: Smart Cities in India- unlocking a $550 bn opportunity.) Gist of my talk: the size of the issue is huge and systemic, but making a city “smart” can offer new hope- provided, of course, that the risks are also contained. That luxury of “anonymity”, for instance, something to be nostalgic for!

My presentation has some examples of simple, innovative, smart startups which are already working, to offer a glimpse of what can be possible. However, several enablers are needed; and the entire ecosystem needs to participate, to unlock the capabilities of digital. Given the current dismal state of infrastructure in Indian cities- mounds of garbage everywhere, and every now and then a stampede or two- this idyllic vision may sometimes appear like a mirage or a pipe dream. But if ambitious projects like the Maharashtra Prosperity Corridor and their plan for “Citizen-centric governance” are to be believed, there is hope. Recently Mr. Devendra Fadnavis, Chief Minister of Maharashtra state, gave a presentation to investors in Singapore where he referred, among others, to the public infrastructure backbone being constructed across Maharashtra from JN Port to Nagpur that will be studded with 22 or more smart cities as a beacon for the rest. Similarly, as we heard from the Ascendas-Singbridge consortium who are developing the Amaravati smart city in Andhra Pradesh, project is being implemented at a fast clip and prognosis is optimistic for completing on time. So dare we hope that things will be different?

In this context – the 2010 presentation of the “1000 Singapore Design Project” comes to mind. Conceptually- this postulated that if cities were organized like Singapore, the whole world’s population could be accommodated in an area just twice the size of France. Balancing between vertical and horizontal living, cities would be hubs of perpetual innovation to provide infrastructure, resources, services through knowledge based economies and intelligence – and able to meet demands of millions of people through technologies of modular prefab, water conservation and waste management. New forms of governance would also be put in place to maintain quality of life, manage participatory democracy, and provide architecture that generates new cultural identities. This has adapted and modified over the years, but always with a priority to maintain dignity of the individual and respect for nature and heritage within the limits afforded by collective living. And as someone said recently- Singapore as a great social experiment in collective living, has succeeded thus far.


Key points include:

  • Citizen-centric governance
  • Vertical and horizontal living
  • Sustainable resource utilization


Read the full article, Indian Smart Cities: A $500 bn+ opportunity, or a pipe dream?, on LinkedIn.