The rapid growth of the world’s population, especially in developing countries like India, has already had and will continue to have an impact on settlement patterns and on the growth of some of the largest metropolitan cities. Situations of such human agglomerations will likely be aggravated because they are the centres of national spatial structure that, due to historical and political reasons, do not serve adequately the needs of developing nations (for e.g. India) (Hardoy, 1973).
It is a general perception that most urbanization policies are related to the interests of state level governments who aim to counterbalance the concentration of economic activities, populations, and institutions in particular geographical areas (Hardoy, 1973). It has also been recognized that state level governments are not fully equipped to solve most urban problems (Hardoy, 1973). We have wasted too much time, effort, and money trying to promote local or metropolitan master plans that have proved to be of little or no value because they did not anticipate for unplanned economies and/or they did not receive adequate support from state level governments.
Cities will have to be planned and built with new approaches and technologies that will require different institutions (e.g. geospatial technologies) to solve the many problems that they will pose, such as land utilization, communication, transportation etc. Solutions to the most pressing urban problems will depend on the values adopted by societies and therefore, making use of resources in a systematic manner. In this sense, making cities ‘smart’ is one such solution and an ambitious urban project of the Government of India, who plan to build 100 smart cities across the country, as proposed in the budget of 2014-15. As much as the vision of smart cities appears rational in terms of addressing several urban problems, the implementation of this massive urban project ‘smart cities’ with the present level of socio-economic condition might be difficult in India. However, as a rapidly developing economy, the country needs to keep up with global standards, and hence, the execution of this plan could help India take a major leap in the development race.
Globally, the conception of the ‘smart city’ is not new. To develop a city, planning is an essential part of addressing a profusion of problems ranging from energy requirements to proper governance, all of which are to be smarter in the where all appears sustainable. Over and above all, sustainability of ‘the environment’ must not be sidelined. Here, pertinent questions are what a smart city is and how it could be smart?
A smart city is often defined as a city where information and communication technology is used in every sphere (Parikh, 2015), and which is essential for achieving the goals of a smart city. However, it is not, by itself, a goal. A smarter city is outfitted with high-tech communication capabilities. It uses digital technologies to enhance performance of urban living and well being, to reduce costs and resource consumption, and to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens. The idea of a ‘smart city’ came into formulation due to the need to accommodate rapid urbanisation. Interest in smart cities continues to grow, driven by a range of socioeconomic and technological developments across the globe. It is due to the increasing number of smart cities that established suppliers from energy, transport, buildings, and government sectors are moving into the smart city market, while start-ups are addressing a range of emerging opportunities in the same field.
Essential components of smart cities
- Innovations in smart energy to accelerate smart cities
- Sustainable smart urban environment to boost smart cities
- Smart transportation runs smart cities
- Smart IT and communications is the nerve centre for smart cities
- Smart health is the lifeline for smart cities
- Smart education powering citizens for smart cities
- Smart buildings is the foundation for smart cities
- Smart cities will begin with smart governance (Smart City India, 2015)
Smart cities can be achieved through renewable energy, clean water for domestic and industrial purposes, urban sanitation, and waste management systems. To overcome water supply, waste water and sanitation issues, smart cities will seek to incorporate the latest technologies, products, solutions, and systems. Urban transportation is also an important element for smart cities. Hence, there is a need to review city transportation systems in India (including metros, monorail, trams, waterways, walkways, bicycle tracks, roads, etc.), to provide new and enhanced infrastructure for public transportation.
To implement smart information technology and communications, policymakers must develop a strong wired and wireless broadband network, and ensure its availability throughout the city to all its residents. Smart cities will use information technology to improve the quality of life of its citizens by providing citizen services over these communication networks. India’s primary competitive advantage over other countries is its large pool of well-trained medical professionals and cost advantage for delivery of essential healthcare services. Rising incomes, easier access to high-quality healthcare facilities and greater awareness of personal health and hygiene has led to the growth of the healthcare industry in India. Smart education will change the way the people learn. Students and teachers will migrate from schoolbooks to e-learning delivered through computers, tablets and mobile devices. Schools must adopt these technologies and upgrade their infrastructure to allow students and schools to stay connected with real time information.
Smart governance is a process of reform in the ways that government works, and shares information with the public to deliver services. This brings government organizations closer to the public by using technology such as e-services, social media, applications and other platforms. It is about improved governance and transforming the ways that public services are delivered.
Citizens, residents and everyone involved could benefit from smart cities and it could be a win-win situation for everyone. But, what are the costs? Will the natural environment pay for it? Smart cities is not quick to implement because there needs to be a symbiotic relationship between human, natural and built environments. It is like a call for new urbanism in which India is struggling and will struggle with a number of significant barriers that continue to hamper the development of urban infrastructure. Hence eco-friendly cities in the form of smart infrastructure will be the requirement for a better quality of urban life.
Hardoy, J.E., 1973. Forecasts of the Future: Problems and Issues of the Future (Chapter 5). In:(Ed. Raanan Weitz) Report on the Sixth Rehovot Conference, Urbanization and the Developing Countries, Israel, 1971. Praeger Publishers, New York.
Parikh, K., 2015. Do the Smart Thing: Planned cities must be flexible enough to evolve as needs and aspirations changed. Article Indian Express, 2nd February 2015 (Digital Edition), Delhi.
Smart Cities India, 2015. Annual International Exhibition and Conference, New Delhi, 20-22 May, 2015.
Dr. Kamal Asif is Ph.D. (2013) from the Department of Geography, Aligarh Muslim University, India. He was awarded with University Gold Medal and a number of certificates of appreciation. His areas of research interest are in urban-rural studies, Agricultural geography and Environmental Geography. He has presented papers in a number of national and international conferences, and published in various journals and books. Currently, he is working as ICSSR Post Doctoral Research Fellow.
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