Ushering Smart Cities to the Next Level

As a part of their transformational journeys, cities are strengthening their geospatial infrastructure to unleash the power of spatial analytics, Internet of Things (IoT), big data and artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the quality of life for their citizens and strengthen resilience.

Globally cities are accelerating their efforts to harness technology convergence for smart solutions to automate decision-making and scale urban experience to the next level. As a part of their transformational journeys, cities are strengthening their geospatial infrastructure to unleash the power of spatial analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, and artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the quality of life for their citizens and strengthen resilience.  

Launched in 2015, the first phase of Smart Cities Mission (SCM) set the ball rolling for a new chapter in the Indian urban scenario. With an objective of providing core infrastructure, good quality of life and a clean, sustainable environment through ‘Smart’ solutions and services, 100 cities across the country launched citizen-centric programs to address their local challenges. 

While Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA’s) geo-enabled India Urban Observatory is helping with reliable information for timely interventions at a national level, individual efforts from Gurugram and Varanasi in the north to Visakhapatnam in the south, to Bhubaneswar in the East and Agartala and Sikkim in North East, cities have been harnessing “The Science of Where” for improving efficiencies to enhance citizen services. Taking a step forward, some cities have integrated IoT and sensors to capitalize on the real-time location intelligence for enhancing the decision-support system, improving collaboration, and delivering rapid emergency responses.  Geospatial infrastructure has proved to be a major force behind this new wave of transformative digital services powering cities with insights and analytics for actionable intelligence and informed decisions.  

With change being constant, for a city to become “Smart” is a journey, not a destination and being “Atmanirbhar (Self-Reliant)” will be our constant companion in this journey, helping us to navigate challenges ahead. Today, cities need to ensure that along with sustainable operations, and finances, they should also embed a strong character of resilience with the ability to adapt and bounce back rapidly in the event of disruptions. Cities must strengthen their operational framework and spatial understanding in order to leverage their strengths and anticipate future trends, prepare for the same, and manage. With access to large data volumes, cities must think spatially and expand their capabilities to leverage spatial analytics, big data, and artificial intelligence (AI) for problem-solving, as they aspire to excel towards self-sustainability. 

City Operations - Bringing city subjects, assets, and networks together, the Geographic Information System (GIS) promotes an integrated approach for sustainable development of the city. In addition to efficiently managing critical public service infrastructure, including assets related to water, sewage, street lighting, transportation, and parking services, city administrations can provide customized location-intelligent solutions to enrich stakeholder experiences.   

City Finances – Finances continue to be a concern and constraint for taking cities to the next level. By integrating MIS and other financial systems GIS technologies bring about marked improvement in spatial understanding of its assets, tax remittances and dues, budgets and expenditure, and compliance for better financial planning. Using change detection techniques, cities can identify the incremental landscape changes to plug revenue leakages, prevent illegal constructions/encroachments and augment field operations to strengthen tax revenue management. 

City Resilience – With the increasing frequency and suddenness of disruptions, cities are at increased risk of getting paralyzed and trapped into situations that are detrimental to their development and sustainable growth. Geospatial intelligence arms cities with a better spatial understanding of the risks and vulnerabilities, causes, and their likely impacts in the economic and social contexts. Using historical disaster information, cities can assess the potential for future risks and build probabilistic models to prepare and mitigate the impacts of unforeseen disasters.  

With GIS integrated city command control centers already taking a centre stage in the smart city operations, augmenting them with advanced capabilities and tools to leverage big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML), will further amplify the benefits from the geospatial infrastructure in times to come. Interactive digital twins and immersive urban environments based on real-world GIS data transform urban planning and design with the power to showcase and digitally experience the past, present, or future of the city. Improved availability of imagery and advanced image processing capabilities of geospatial infrastructure aid in significant improvement of situational awareness. 

As the geospatial infrastructure continues to play a vital role in integrating the physical, social, institutional, and economic infrastructure of the cities, there are challenges posed by geo-data governance models and geo-data privacy needs that must be addressed on a war footing. 

With the progression of time, there will be new expectations, technologies, and operating models that will keep evolving and challenging the status quo. Given the dynamic pace at which these are likely to emerge, the need for rapid development and deployment of smart solutions becomes imperative. Cities must be “Atmanirbhar” to deal with data-driven insights and actionable intelligence. With spatial thinking and understanding holding the key, GIS will be an indispensable tool for smart growth, strategic densification, and socially inclusive development to usher cities towards being competitive and sustainable, while simultaneously ensuring the wellness of our planet and communities.  

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house