There is a lot of humdrum we hear about Smart Cities these days. It is about time that we demystify Smart Cities and change the conversation from a rhetorical tone to a more lucid and actionable one. By keeping the smart city conversation at a high level, the orientation tends to be more towards long term goals and achievements. This may not necessarily have tangible benefits in the very near future for the citizen in order to mobilize and motivate all the stakeholders.
One statement in which I have always got profound agreement with all stakeholders is that “Smart City is a journey”. So like any journey, shouldn’t it begin with the first steps? And these first steps can be simple and towards the low hanging fruits. A pragmatic approach can be that while we keep the big picture of the end result clear in our minds, we need to break that big picture into smaller workable pieces and these pieces need to seamlessly fit into the large canvas of that big picture.
Let me elaborate by taking an example. Smart City initiatives are mostly associated with terms like sustainability, GHG emissions, reduction in carbon footprint, energy efficiency, automation, etc. Although these are rightful professional terms, they often tend to be understood mostly by academicians, city planners, few architects, some mayors, smart city solution providers and few from the corporate sector. But for the common man, these are another set of fancy, lofty terms which he is unable to relate with his daily routine life.
So, to begin the journey few small steps, let’s break the problem into smaller pieces. Instead of talking about uplifting the entire city, let’s pick a zone and look at few systems and their sub-systems. Let us have a debate on how we can use a single drop of water twice. How can we deploy better methods to manage solid waste? How can we make our surroundings more verdant in spite of the concrete jungle in which we live? How more lung space can be created for walking and also for cycling?
Smart Cities have basically two variants: Brownfield and Greenfield . But still, it means different things to different people. I believe it all starts with a vision which clearly depends upon the current infrastructure of the city. So that being said, a smart city in USA would be very different from a smart city in India. A very easy way to relate to the latest Smart City concepts would be to build a Greenfield city. Although it would provide a perfect opportunity for citizens to leap frog into the latest and advanced infrastructure in all sectors like power, water, transport, etc. but the exorbitant cost to build a city from scratch doesn’t make this idea very attractive for most governments.
So then let’s go back into the steps of making an existing city “smart”. A good way to start could be to pick zones from within a city and mark them out for some upliftment and advancement benefiting the citizens of that zone. It could be either related to reliable and continuous power supply, deployment of smart meters, clean and adequate water supply, advance solid waste management techniques, solar street lights or more space for the pedestrian.
These initiatives must be taken in consultation with the citizens, along with the municipality officials, local legislatures and other senior city authorities. Our millennial is not only socially diverse and globally oriented but can also come out with innovative ideas to improve their neighborhood. The approach has to be inclusive in order to keep the citizen at the center of all development.
In a large country like India, giving a face lift to the entire city is not feasible. So picking up zones in few cities from every state can be a good way to begin the journey of moving from mere concepts and discussions to some action on ground.