An Oxford Economics' Global Cities report predicts that India will be home to 17 out of 20 top cities of the world between 2019 and 2035. Cities are powerhouses of economic development, fostering innovation and employment generation.
Propelled by rapid urbanization, technological advancements and a conducive business climate, India has emerged among the fastest-growing economies globally. An Oxford Economics' Global Cities report predicts that India will be home to 17 out of 20 top cities of the world between 2019 and 2035. Cities are powerhouses of economic development, fostering innovation and employment generation. Nevertheless, congestion, pollution, lack of safety, increasing carbon footprints are some of the challenges resulting from the exponential rate of urbanization. These challenges threaten the liveability quotient of cities and cast doubts over the viability of the development process. The Economist’s Global Liveability Index 2019 ranked Delhi and Mumbai at a low 118th and 119th position respectively, among a listing of 140 cities.
For decades, the discourse of development has been largely tilted towards rural India. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), now replaced with AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation) and Smart Cities Mission underscore the need for planned urbanization and reaffirm its significance in economic development. While JNNURM was focused on cities, AMRUT is designed to meet the needs of all the areas which have a population over one lakh, thus encompassing a wider area for planning and implementation under its aegis. These are among the several initiatives undertaken by the government to ensure planned urbanization.
Technology will be an integral component to facilitate planned urbanization as it continues to proliferate every sector, with urban development being no exception. Emerging technologies such as BIM (Building Information Modelling) can facilitate better decision-making to ensure efficiency in the design and construction process, improve MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) design in buildings and thereby facilitate planned urban development. Similarly, the Internet of Things can connect all the dots for gathering data and drive remote actions at a click. Other technologies such as Big Data Analytics and Cloud Technology can aid in the development and up-gradation of large-scale infrastructure projects and ensure judicious use of energy that will pave way for the planning of futuristic cities.
One can draw inspiration from cities across the globe such as Berlin, Singapore, Beijing, Haikou, etc. that have set a benchmark through the integration of new-age technology in urban planning. For instance, Moscow is effectively leveraging digital technologies in healthcare and transportation. Similarly, the Safe City project in Singapore leverages video analytics to make cities safer. Singapore and Amsterdam have also designated dedicated Chief Technology Officers and Chief Information Officers to accelerate the transition towards building futuristic cities.
Though the existing Smart Cities program in India takes cognizance of the role of technology in building cities, there is a need to go a step ahead to implement it at the ground level. The seamless integration of intelligent city components such as intelligent governance, intelligent mobility, intelligent healthcare and intelligent energy will fulfil key goals of building smart cities such as transparency in governance, reducing congestion, widening access to healthcare, making cities accessible to the differently-abled and ensuring energy-efficient buildings. While the current government and leadership has been proactive in devising several initiatives for planned development, this zeal and vision are yet to resonate at the local level. Today, in the digitally-connected era, citizens have become more aware and are seeking a personalized experience. The use of technology in planned development will ensure two-way communication between government and citizens and enable them to play a proactive role in the urban development process and improve their quality of life.
The multi-stakeholder collaboration will be a formidable step to spearhead this change. Public-private partnerships, for example, can be leveraged in the development of large-scale infrastructure projects. This kind of partnership combines the strengths of both entities- strategic direction and public interest of the government sector and technical expertise and professionalism of the private sector. A relevant example in this regard would be Amsterdam wherein both the private sector and the government are working in sync to help increase the use of renewable energy and reduce carbon footprint. Back home in India, Kochi is among the few cities to set up the Integrated Centralised Command & Control Centre (ICCC) on the public cloud to improve service delivery to citizens and increase efficiency and cost savings. At the national level, the proposed establishment of the Center of Excellence on Urban Analytics to enable urban local bodies to use spatial data to aid decision-making in the urban development process will be a commendable step to accelerate digitization and reap its benefits in the long-run. In a heartening endeavor, several startups have come up with unique tech-driven offerings such as a transit smart card program, an automated multi-source data platform for various geospatial products to provide environmental information to citizens using satellite data. Such initiatives will not only give a fillip to innovation but also lead to employment generation for the local population.
Technology is a great enabler to accelerate the Smart Cities program in India and fulfil the dream of a $5 trillion economy by 2024. Nevertheless, citizens should be at the center-stage of the urban development process. Technology should only be the means to usher this transition towards planned development. Granting autonomy to Urban Local Bodies in the exercise of their functions as well as in financial aspects will ensure that benefits of the process percolate to the grass-root level. Any technological innovation should be implemented with necessary institutional structures and policy framework with the end-goal of efficient and personalized service delivery to citizens.
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