How should a Smart City be created? Why India is setting a template for others to follow

To say that India’s drive to spend more than $7.3 billion over the next five years to ensure more than 100 cities are “smart cities” is a huge undertaking would be an understatement.

The smart cities concept refers to how municipalities can take advantage of emerging technologies — cloud computing, mobility, and the Internet of Things (IoT) — to embrace digital transformation and improve the lives of its citizens.

According to Pratap Padode, founder and director for the Smart Cities Council India, the country’s Smart Cities Mission initiative is an urban renewal and retrofitting program by the Government of India with a goal of ensuring its cities are more technologically advanced, citizen friendly, and sustainable.

Padode will be in Toronto next month at the World Future Cities Summit conference to discuss the nation’s aim to set the smart cities template for others to follow.

Pratap Padode, founder & director, Smart Cities Council India
Pratap Padode, founder & director, Smart Cities Council India

Smart cities are all about aligning information communications technology (ICT) with traditional infrastructures, said Padode, all coordinated and integrated using new digital technologies. It is projected that the urban areas of India will contribute about 75 per cent of India’s national GDP in the next 15 years. And with a population of more than 1.25 billion, Padode notes that becoming early adopters of emerging technologies is both a no-brainer and a strategic plan to globally lead the way in the smart city concept.

And it’s not about turning an entire city into a “smart city” added Padode, but rather it’s about “having an area demarcated either for redevelopment or retrofitting…along with a pan-city initiative — (improving urban transport and electricity, for example) — where all citizens feel the presence of at least one initiative which runs right through the city.”

But the Smart Cities Mission project hasn’t been easy, he admits, particularly considering each city and region has its own characteristics and problems that require local contextual solutions.

Accountability is key

“There’s always an issue with accountability with these initiatives…the reporting structure failed several times,” he said. But a recent government regime change — led by current Prime Minister Narendra Modi — has effectively kickstarted the initiative anew; the country has been challenged to accelerate the technology vision of developing 100 smart cities as satellite towns of larger cities and modernizing the existing mid-sized cities.

Padode is focused on the smart cities concept under the principles of livability, workability and sustainability: “This is an undertaking that has never been done before.”

The country recently conducted a competition to select candidates for Modi’s vision of 100 smart cities; regional governments were invited to prepare proposals that would be judged on issues of revenue generation, creditworthiness, and development partnerships. The focus was around cities that could best deliver “core infrastructure services” including sanitation, clean water, affordable housing and public transit.

“Twenty cities were selected for development as of January of this year,” he noted, adding they were entitled to a $15 million a year grant (over five years) to spur development.

Smart e-rickshaws deliver affordability & last mile connectivity
Smart e-rickshaws: the potential to deliver affordability & last mile connectivity

The advancements are centred around improving the lives of India’s citizenry —  this includes enabling developments such as smart street lights, smart garbage containers and smart e-rickshaws that feature last mile connectivity, in addition to working with technology partners such as Hitachi to establish a intelligent water system concept for integrating water treatment systems with information and control systems for the efficient utilization of recycled water. This also includes a road-rationing experiment to cut down on the number of cars on roads and air pollution in the air, robust IT connectivity and digitalization, and strong governance, especially improved e-Governance and citizen participation processes.

Padode hopes that his nation’s model acts as a template for cities around the world that are looking at how technology can improve processes, reduce costs, and boost the quality of citizen life.

Defining success for the initiative is around being proactive in aligning the technology demands and sustainability concerns of India’s growing population, he added.

The World Future Cities Summit takes place this June 9-10 at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto.

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