After the Centre selected 98 cities for the smart cities project, the question is: How do urban planners make these cities ‘smart’? The last big experiment in urban planning in India is the evolution of the millennium city, Gurgaon, the planning of which is viewed by experts as an urban planning ignominy. Despite being advantageously situated in the national capital region and having most of the MNC offices, ritzy apartments, golf courses, malls, the millennium city faces acute infrastructural hurdles.
The city is perpetually confronted by a scarcity of electricity, water, sewerage facilities, a poor drainage system, traffic blockades, broken roads with cattle and street dogs, pitiable waste disposal, and a disorderly public transport system except for the Delhi Metro. Gurgaon should have been planned, designed and built like Singapore as the smartest city in India.
It is strategically imperative that our urban planners glance through the recent report of the Economist Intelligence Unit, ‘Safe Cities Index 2015’. It ranks 50 world cities comparing more than 40 quantitative and qualitative indicators spread across digital security, health, infrastructure, and personal safety — some of the most critical components while planning a smart city. While Tokyo, the world’s most populous city, is rated the safest, followed by Singapore, both the Indian cities in the report, Delhi and Mumbai, figure among the lowest ranked 10 cities.
The 100 smart cities (two are yet to be chosen) are going to be intensely digital, technologically savvy and networked with Internet of Things. They must be built to have discernible impact on the economy, education, housing, health, recreation and the political and cultural life of inhabitants. Quality service-delivery, round-the-clock water supply, infrastructure for sanitation, drainage, solid waste management and, sewage treatment are the hallmarks of a smart city. The level of healthcare infrastructure and access to quality of healthcare services, sustainable environmental policies and availability of clean air can ensure citizens’ health security.
The application of information and communication technology must pave the way for good e-governance through citizen participation. Effective cyber security, disaster preparedness, oversight and controls in the use of citizens’ database can prevent privacy invasions and cyber terrorism.
The planners and administrators of smart cities must have a keen understanding of the strategically significant issues of the individual cities, their inherent characteristics, strengths, vulnerabilities, risks and interplay of cross-cutting Internet of Things and modern technologies impacting on core city functions.
Brainstorming and exchanging ideas will go a long way in resolving many problems while visualising, planning and developing these 100 future cities of India.
KP Shashidharan is former director general, CAG. The views expressed are personal.