Smart Cities: How India can Show the Way

A smart city is a city where its residents can live well; safe, healthy in a clean environment, and within reach of necessities such as transportation, hospitals and schools. Some cities listed as smart cities have sister cities in the developed states that have promised to help them become smart cities


On my recent visit to India there was a buzz about smart cities and the challenges they create.                              

 A smart city is a city where its residents can live well; safe, healthy in a clean environment, and within reach of necessities such as transportation, hospitals and schools. Some cities listed as smart cities have sister cities in the developed states that have promised to help them become smart cities.  The challenge to building smart cities will provide business opportunities to small, medium and large businesses at the local, national and international level. 

Every smart city must have a landmark feature; a bustling shop-lined lane free of vehicular traffic; a literati corner or a youth music group.  Some such groups may become famous nationally or internationally.  They may have community centers for the elderly or drug or narcotics session programs. Some cities may have uniquely constructed municipal buildings, chowks adorned with attractive statues, or art shops and museums.

A smart city must have a sufficient resident friendly police force to protect the people; muggings, raping and groping women in public places would become rare.  In a public private collaboration, local start-ups and small and medium organizations will see an opportunity in creating a training syllabus and training such a force.  Longitudinal studies show that children who walk to neighborhood schools are less likely to get obese than children who are bussed or driven to schools.  Obesity leads to chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. Society will save an enormous amount in lost productivity and health bills if its population is less obese.  For parents to let their children walk to neighborhood schools, walking to school must be safe. 

Volunteers must be organized along a school’s walking path to oversee children’s safety.  They can watch over the children from their windows and balconies and should the children be threatened they could intervene on site or phone the police. Neighborhood schools must be able to attract students.  They must provide education that will lead to meaningful jobs.  Young and emerging entrepreneurs, and public private partnerships at local, national and international levels can draw up an acceptable teaching curricula and a program to teach teachers.  Schools must provide sufficient toilets for boys and girls. 

Clean air is vital to healthy living. A smart city leaves little carbon dioxide imprint on the environment. It generates its own energy through renewable alternative sources such as wind and solar power, but is connected to the national energy grid to seamlessly supply electricity should the local electricity supply go down for brief periods. To decrease pollution, smart cities must discourage the use of private cars. They must have excellent metro services and a fleet of environmentally friendly buses to take the passengers home safely from the metro station they get off: “the last mile”. Cities must be planned for walking where getting into a car becomes burdensome.  There are two kinds of walking; recreational and utilitarian. Setting time aside to walk for exercise is recreational walking.  Walking to buy groceries, fetch milk, get haircuts and visit a dentist or an attorney is utilitarian walking.  Utilitarian walking can be as beneficial to health as recreational walking. 

To encourage utilitarian walking, cities must adopt mixed use concepts.  In a multiple floor mixed use building, residents live on the top floors, professional offices occupy the second floor and shops providing vital necessities the ground floor.  Residents should be able to walk the short distance for their necessities rather than having to get into a car, drive it, park it, get out and get in again to drive back and park. To encourage walking, smart cities must build safe sidewalks that are free from ditches and other hazards. They must be well lit.  Traffic lights must have sufficiently long walk signs for the disabled and the elderly to be able to cross the road safely.  Every neighborhood should have a pocket park for exercising and recreational walking.  Smart cities must encourage biking.  In their master plans city managers (municipalities) must designate bike lanes on roads clearly marked by a solid white line. Safety factors will encourage people to bike.

Exercise alone is not enough to keep healthy.  Nutrition counts.  Smart cities will have to engage in social marketing on healthy nutrition.  Nutritionists can plan cost effective midday meals for school children.  Cities will encourage restaurants to show caloric counts against dishes on the menus.  Consumers become wary of large caloric counts. Empirical evidence shows, restaurants that display caloric counts attract more customers.  This will display public private enterprise and partnership.

To encourage the optimum use of parks and recreational spaces, smart cities should practice joint use.  Schools can book a park for use by children.  Off school hours, the park can revert to public use.  Efficient utilization of land will be a challenge for urban planners.  In Japan schools are located alongside a railway line, yet shrubs and other foliage hide it and most children are not aware that they are close to a railway.

  City planners must ensure the city has enough toilet facilities for men and women. Smart cities must have easily accessible hospitals and hospital beds for all. They must have ambulances for patients not abused by bureaucrats.  These hospitals may not be able to provide state of art treatment for all diseases but should be equipped to treat most common diseases. For specialty care, patients can be flown to larger medical centers. To avoid corruption, a city’s budget should be accessible online.

A smart city is digitally smart. Business is about perception of future opportunities.  Cell phone operators and carriers will make more revenues if they have more customers and greater advertising. In a public private partnership, phone operators and carriers should have the incentive to provide smart cities with extensive Wi-Fi coverage. Foreign entrepreneurs should invest in their sister cities in India to make them smart.  They will have a foot in the door in India for future opportunities. Most local and foreign enterprises complain of excessive bureaucratic interference.  In a public private partnership, bureaucrats must stop being obstructionists and become objectives oriented catalysts for change and encourage their private partners to achieve the objectives.  Businesses will demand a predictable regulatory environment and strong intellectual property protections.

 A smart city is work in progress.  Its municipality must keep it clean constantly.  It must provide sewage treatment plants for all sewage.  Building a smart city will require some of the state of art technology and will challenge local and foreign small, medium and large enterprises.  Start-ups can find a niche.  If India can create smart cities, the developed states may want to emulate her.  India can then truly be called a developing developed state. 

-(Vinod Goyal earned his Master and Ph.D. degrees in international relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and MBA from Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) with Sigma Iota Epsilon. He taught at USC.  He served the County of Los Angeles for 20 years in its various departments.

He went to Doon School. Completed training on the Training Ship Dufferin and joined the merchant marine where he earned the Master Mariner’s Foreign-Going Certificate of Competency.  He served the Nigerian Ports Authority in Nigeria as the Chief Port Harbor Master)

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