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Thinking smart cities

chandigarh Updated: Dec 07, 2014 09:04 IST
Madhusheel Arora
Madhusheel Arora
Hindustan Times

Is Chandigarh a smart city and what is implied by this most-used phrase in the context of cities over the past six months or so?

The single most important criterion emerging out of the public discourse on the issue is that increased energy-efficiency is critical to smartness. Considered from this perspective, the tricity has a long way to go before it becomes smart. We have the highest number of vehicles per capita in the country and it becomes imperative for us to adopt technologies that are kind to the environment, while boosting growth.

Businesses, of course, love the smart city idea and see a huge opportunity to expand their footprint. However, policymakers and other stakeholders would like to balance growth imperatives with sensitivity towards environmental concerns.

Even as there can no debate that growth is needed to create jobs for our youngsters, it has to be done in the right manner and the tricity, in many ways, could be the trendsetter.

While there is a suggestion from some quarters that new cities is the answer to all concerns, there is evidence to suggest that significant, small changes in the way we live can be enough to bring about a transformation in the use of energy, resulting in increased efficiency, and hence smarter cities.

These lifestyle changes would have to be made for the betterment of future generations. In some cases, these would seem like a regression, but are nothing more than little shifts in routine, like bathing at a particular time when dependent on solar panels for hot water. At a recent conference in the city on this subject, policymakers and industry representatives deliberated on the way technology and the increased need for energy-efficiency can come together to create better cities. The way new cities can be built and conceptualised was also discussed.

The fundamental way in which we can contribute to a smarter home is by making small changes to its design. This is not easy, but doable.

“We must install solar panels and use this energy, whenever possible, in our daily chores. Public transport remains the key and in some of the new construction projects in the city, complexes need to be integrated to encourage people to walk. Some of the rules enforcing a ban on mixed land use must go,” said a participant at the conference, who runs a design consultancy firm.

He added that 20,000 homes were being constructed in 14 cities as a pilot project in association with the National Housing Bank, a RBI-owned organisation. He claims that the cost of a new 800-square-feet home goes up by less than 5%, if the dwelling was to be smart, based on design parameters.

Some of the design norms include studying the shading requirement of the location, top-floor roof insulation, cross-ventilation and minimal use of glass in construction.

Important businesses in the region like dairy could also be made more energy-efficient and smarter by process analysis and the benefits outweigh the cost by a large multiple, experts have been saying for long. The question is, how many will take the plunge and pledge to be smart?