Is a ‘smart city’ an equivalent of the Utopian world, of which our ancestors have often spoken about through the tales of Rama and his ideal empire which never ran out of water and had enough food grains to feed everyone, and where the governance came automatically from loyal as well as happy citizens? If the experts are to be believed, a smart city is like an Utopian city or much closer to that. Is it really possible to create such cities in the modern day world where resources are drying up at an unimaginable pace? Majority of experts believe that the smart cities are possible and are the only way to sustain, though opinions on how to build smart cities are plenty. Present day technology is capable of making the fictional concept a reality.
Inching closer to become smart
Dataquest decided to explore the possibilities for the smart cities in India through an expert panel from different streams. The panel discussion was organized to deliberate, discuss and outline the scope of smart cities in India, especially in the wake of the current government’s focus on smart cities.
“India is in desperate need of smart cities which can handle the growing population. The present day cities are unable to deal with the challenges that the growing population poses,” shares Rajesh Ramachandran, President & CTO, Rolta.
In India, the smart city concept came under spotlight as the Modi government took over after a landslide victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. While the government was determined to roll out a full-fledged work around the 100 smart cities, it truncated the list to 20 smart cities in the first phase. And the move sounds pragmatic, given the resources and capabilities. “Building smart cities requires constant attention. Information technology is the key in building cities as it enables the authorities to use resources accurately. GIS and geospatial technology holds the key to make cities smarter,” outlines Dr. Kamal Jain, Professor, IIT Roorkee.
Absorbing the best from all over
While experts resort to absorb the experiences from the smart cities built around the globe, it would be unfair to ignore some of the cities, or to be precise, satellite cities which are more closer the smart city concept because of the infrastructure and proper planning. Places such as New Raipur in the first list are much closer to this. “Working on greenfield projects can be daunting, challenging and far too futuristic. It is better that the present day cities are turned into smart cities. Besides, there can be focus on turning the best possible cases into smart cities along with the popular cities,” opines Prashant Pillai, Country Head-Tax & Accounting business and Market Development, South Asia, Thomson Reuters.
The Ministry of Urban Development received proposals from the 97 cities to be beneficiaries of the first year financing from 2016 onwards. Minister of Urban Development Venkiah Naidu announced the selected top 20 from among them on 28 January 2016. Bhubaneswar topped the list of top 20, followed by Pune and Jaipur. The government chose these cities on various parameters. They were shortlisted by three different panels of experts based on the feasibility of the proposal, cost-effectiveness, result orientation, citizen participation, strategic plan, vision and goals, among other things. “Undoubtedly the smart cities will help India stay in the long-term economic race globally. The success will determine a lot of key advantages for India on the global platform,” said David Hickman, Head – International Business Development, Government, Thomson Reuters.
During the panel discussion, views around making the first 20 cities smarter in a time-bound manner surfaced from almost all panelists. In particular, Bharti Sinha, Secretariat Director, Association of Geospatial Industries emphasized on the use of technology to complete these cities in the timeframe. “I believe that time is critical. India need to deliver these cities as decided in the original plan to keep the cost in control. It will ensure a lot of things for India. There would be more jobs. The pressure on cities such as Delhi and Mumbai will eventually come down as a result of these smart cities,” added Sinha. Time is an important factor for building smart cities. While the central government has made provisions to fund these cities, states should evaluate all aspects and work on a plan to deliver smart cities that can attract people not only from India but from different parts of the world.
Many countries have already embarked upon the smart city bandwagon. Other countries are building cities that could offer all kinds of amenities to citizens. One of the experts believe that facilities offered by a city, presumably smart city, would decide the fate of a city in the future. “Until now, we have seen race amongst countries to become a better place for citizens and people. But this is going to change as cities, irrespective of the countries they belong to, around the world are going to compete,” adds Ramachandran from Rolta.
Building infrastructure is just one part of the whole project. In a smart city, everything has to be connected so that people who inhabit there are able to lead a secure, safe and happy life. “Technology is going to play a critical role in building smart cities. Everything has to be connected. Resources are properly managed and utilized,” says David Hickman, Head – International Business Development, Government, Thomson Reuters.
IoT in smart cities
Most of the panelists had a common view about the role of state-of-the-art technology in building smart cities. IoT has a very large and important role to play in smart cities. Connectivity is of utmost importance when it comes to a smart city. Smart City is about accelerated development of the new generation information technology and knowledge-based economy, based on the network combination of the Internet, telecommunications network, broadcast network, wireless broadband network and other sensors networks where Internet of Things technology (IoT) as its core. “From our experience working globally on smart city projects, it is easy to say that hyper-connected networks and use of IoT will only make cities smarter,” further adds Ramachandran.
Characteristics of a smart city such as high degree of information technology integration and a comprehensive application of information resources will all require IoT. “The essential components of urban development for a smart city should include smart technology, smart industry, smart services, smart management and smart life. GIS is one of the smart ways to work on such holistic projects,” says Sinha.
Further experts believe that new Internet of Things (IoT) applications that leverage ubiquitous connectivity, big data and analytics are enabling smart city initiatives all over the world. Smart city solutions are currently based on multiple architectures, standards and platforms, which have led to a highly fragmented landscape. In order to allow cities to share data across systems and coordinate processes across domains, it is essential to break these silos with the help of IoT. “We have worked on projects such as Lavasa in Pune. We need to make use of the local data to define routes and roads precisely for smart cities,” says Dr Jain.
Big Data/analytics power the converged infrastructure to deliver insights which help in predicting trends, preventing disasters, and taking decisions. India’s smart cities are going to use big data in every aspect as there would be huge amount of IT. “India is at the apex of development, a big part of which is dedicated to smart cities. Technology and in turn IoT form the backbone of this entire smart cities project,” says Hickman. Through integration of technology and information, IoT will provide the resources required to make the cities smart in terms of installing RFID tags, GPS sensor, scanners etc. In simple words, IoT will the key to achieving the intelligent management that smart cities promise. For instance, common issues like waste management, traffic jams can be dealt with by leveraging IoT. Automated alerts can assist in keeping a tabs on people who break the rules.
Contrary views often emerge when the discussion around smart cities begin. Embedding every positive thought is helpful in outlining the layout for smart cities, especially in India. While smart cities exist globally, the experiences can help us create in India. However, it is not necessary that our smart cities look like theirs. Smart does not mean that cultural is ignored. “Every city is going to be a different experience. Building a smart cities in northern Indian would be different from building a city in the southern India. The end focus should be on building cities that can self-sustain,” says Sinha.
All said and done, a city will truly become smart when it would be able to support every individual living there. It should be able to provide livable infrastructure, security, jobs, etc. In short, it is time to revisit our first thought of an ‘Utopian World’. It may not be close to this ideal state. The discussion at least transports us to a thought that we can possibly achieve this state, if not entirely, to an extent.