Windows to the World

Being bustling cosmopolitan hubs of trade and cultural activity, ports have long been drivers of economic growth. The Smart Cities Mission offers new hope to these urban centres

Vijay Kalantri-SN

Ports and cities: inextricably linked Ports have been the origin of many cities that started as trading posts and fuelled urban development. Economic historians like Fernand Braudel have stressed the importance of port-cities in the birth and development of the global, capitalist market economy. A striking example from recent history is that of Shenzhen, a small fishing village in China that has turned into one of the world’s largest metropolises and ports, thanks to export-driven growth through a free trade zone and extensive development. Many of the world’s largest cities also have the largest ports, like Shanghai and Osaka-Kobe in Asia. Some of the world’s largest metros areas also have river ports, such as Chicago and Paris. Although there are large metropolitan areas without a port, their fate is often strongly dependent on the quality of their connection with ports. The same is true of land-locked countries. Economic impact Port cities often lead the way in terms of economic strength. For example, 14 out of the 20 economically strongest cities in the world are port cities, even as 36 of the world’s 50 most competitive cities are port cities. These cosmopolitan urban hubs provide a space for localisation for many industries and services, while attracting tourism and cultural exchange. As driving forces of economic wealth, they act as a magnet for induced activities and can be incubators for new services with their high economic and real estate potential. Besides transport and logistics, warehousing and storage, ports also host resource-intensive industries like refineries and renewable energy production. Decay and regeneration Given the nature of such high-volume economic activity, ports do come with attached ecological, social and cultural costs. Often the port becomes a driver of environmental deterioration and reduced well-being with regard to urban life wherever old and new industrial activities get localised. Ports also produce a lot of waste. Thus, it is not by chance that, globally, port areas have become sites for the implementation of creative actions aimed at promoting sustainability. Investments in the urban regeneration of waterfronts—in Rotterdam, Barcelona, Liverpool, Valencia, Vancouver, Tokyo, Hamburg, Malmo, Amsterdam, Genoa, Glasgow, Antwerp etc.—are well-known experiences. They can be interpreted as “transition experiments”. They express the creativity and resilience of cities against the pressures of change, by highlighting the capability of cities to transform themselves and maintain their identity. Smart Cities & Ports The concept of smart cities first emerged in European urban planning over a decade ago. It is a brilliant idea that carries the potential of activating strong direct and indirect linkages that can immensely benefit cities, states and the overall economy. The Smart City concept envisages not only the creation of new cities or townships but making existing cities smarter. This is not easy to accomplish as it involves meticulous, precision planning and effective implementation. There is talk about the Indian economy moving from $2 trillion to $20 trillion by 2025, and a critical ingredient is the concept of ‘Smart Cities’. Smart Cities across the country would be built with provisions for affordable housing; cost-efficient physical, social and institutional infrastructure, with the core aim of ensuring all-round convenience and comfort of modern living. Authorities will have to come out with Smart City protocols to use as the basis for future development projects. Though the smartness of a city may mean different things to different people but for attaining sustainability a Smart City has to offer employment opportunities to a wide section of its residents, regardless of their level of education, skills or income levels. The government has launched an ambitious plan to build 100 Smart Cities at a total investment of Rs. 48,000 crore, to be completed in five years. The 12 major ports under central government’s control have between them an estimated 2.64 lakh acres of land that is being mapped through satellites and are major resources with the Ministry of Shipping. They are likely to feature in the list of 100 cities. These smart port cities will be built as per international standards and will feature green energy and advanced townships. In addition, smarter ports will have e-governance links, globally-competitive facilities, special economic zones, ship-breaking and ship-building centres besides allied facilities. Port water will be recycled and waste turned into biogas. Vehicles will run on bio fuel, while solar energy and wind power will be generated at the ports themselves for making them pollution-free. Besides, electric vehicles will run here and these smart port cities would house schools, commercial complexes and other amenities. The government has plans to encourage the setting up of some bio diesel plants at these ports, including Haldia, where bio diesel will be made from palm oil residue. As part of its plan to revamp the country’s top 12 ports, the Centre has already asked the ports to prepare a land data base and development plans to achieve international operating standards