Enabling Cost-Effective and Efficient Smart Cities

by November 23, 2015 0 comments

– Manish R Kumar, Global Practice Head – Engineering & Construction, Wipro

There is considerable interest in India on the design, science and technology of Smart Cities. In early 2015, the Urban Development Ministry set up a task force for drawing up an action plan for developing 100 Smart Cities in India. The reason for the push towards Smart Cities is easy to see: the rapid growth in the Indian economy is expected to increase the rate of urbanization. Official projections suggest that by 2013, about 600 million Indians will reside in urban areas; an increase of over 200 million in just 20 years. This is not necessarily an alarming forecast. Urbanization is viewed as being essential to realize India’s growth potential. The most recent assessment of the urban share of GDP has gone up from 37.7% in 1970-71 to 62-63% in 2009-10. But, inevitably, with this growth water, food and energy in urban areas will come under pressure. The growth will impact transport and mobility. The safety of urban populations will become uncertain. Waste management and associated public health issues, culture and social conditions will come in for acute scrutiny. The pressure is expected to continue to increase. A recent United Nations report called ‘World Urbanization Prospects’ suggests that by 2050 India will add 404 million urban dwellers.
The government’s vision for India’s urban growth is deeply related to the objectives of inclusivity and sustainability. For these goals to be achievable, Indian cities must be ready to provide world class infrastructure, formal employment opportunities and affordable housing. The needs of the future call for a high-touch, human-centric approach to the judicious management of urban resource and for making intelligent and efficient use of infrastructure to ensure we have sustainable cities with vibrant communities.
The citizen-centric view of Smart Cities
Can the needs of the future be addressed by what is being globally referred to as Smart Cities?
The popular construct of Smart Cities promotes the use of digital platforms and technology to drive the efficient use of resources and make citizen services available. This view is somewhat limited. A larger understanding of a Smart City needs to be embraced. This would include principles that ensure:
Citizen involvement and participation at all phases of the initiative – Citizen-City collaboration would help keep citizens expectations, convenience and needs at the center of governance and administration. It would also ensure that systems and processes are engineered based on the environments that citizens live in.
Scalable and cost effective solutions – Digitizing municipal and administrative services, whose future demands cannot be accurately anticipated, brings a strong economic argument to Smart Cities, and allows projects to scale on the control and data planes without adding to cost.
Support for 3rd party innovation using Open Architecture and Open Data – With ICT playing a major role, open architecture and publishing data as open data will drive transparency and help Smart Cities exploit 3rd party urban innovation for better services, faster reforms, improved social inclusion, dependable security, higher standards of living and cost efficiency.
It must be borne in mind that “Smart” is a relative concept. The real meaning of “Smart” would depend on the city, and in the Indian context, vary from Tier 1 city to Tier 2 city. This is because the depth of services required for Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities vary. In addition, what is “Smart” today may need considerable enhancement within the span of a few months in order to continue to qualify as being “Smart”.

  • Specifically, in an Indian context this would mean:
    Providing access to health care, education and efficient transportation in a safe and secure environment
  • Delivering operational efficiencies in the management of power, water, and waste management services
  • Catalyzing economic opportunity and providing visible social infrastructure
  • Creating platforms for government and civic agencies to connect to citizens and help in the convergence and coordination of services
  • Single window to access information to avail civic services and thus enrich liveability
  • Improve disaster management
  • Deliver smart governance where transparent single point responsibility is established to manage the city

Citizen-friendly smart city architecture –
The Starting Point
In order to achieve this, a typical smart city architecture would encompass governance, utilities, transport, health and environment, sustainability practices, living and citizen services, waste management and security.
This is a citizen-centric approach, in contrast to a technology-focused approach that places data acquisition, analytics, visualization, communication, system design and control, testing, automation and process management ahead of everything else. A technology-led smart city would advocate instrumentation, kiosks, mobile devices and networks, cameras and digitization. These are beyond doubt essential elements. But their priority and engineering specifications will vary depending on the demands of citizens and specific urban environments.
Smart city components that citizens would need improvement in – and unrestricted access to – can be divided into four broad categories. These would be Institutional, Physical, Social and Economic Infrastructure.

  • Institutional Infrastructure would encompass and include:
  • Government to Citizen connect for citizen participation
  • Digitization of municipal services
  • Integrating siloed municipal services on a common web/ mobile platform
  • Citizens access to the integrated municipal services via a
  • Unified Citizen Service Window
  • Safety and security of citizens
  • Governance by initiative rather than enforcement
  • SLA driven managed urban service

Physical Infrastructure would encompass and include: Public transport, Traffic management, Roads and pavements, Public housing, energy systems, Water systems, Sewerage systems, Waste management, etcSocial Infrastructure would encompass and include: Healthcare services, Education facilities, Entertainment facilities, Sports infrastructure, Cultural facilities (performance areas, libraries, public meeting halls), Recreational facilities (open spaces/ parks/ public squares/ lakes/ riversides), Social inclusion, Facilities for the differently abled, etc.

Economic Infrastructure would encompass and include: Industrial Parks and Export Processing Zones, IT Parks/ Bio Tech Parks/ ESDM Parks, Trade Centers, Skill Development Centers/ Mentoring and Counselling Centers, etc.
Today’s cities lack a unified and scalable approach to developing, managing and sustaining the components (above) of urban needs. That is one reason why we have fragmented solutions to simple urban needs today. For example, there is an efficient metro in Delhi but commuters traveling from Gurgaon to Noida need to purchase separate tickets for buses to the metro from their homes and from the metro to their offices when all three components can be smartly stitched into a unified transport system. Smart city approaches can overcome such hurdles.
The stakeholder’s point of view
Smart cities are going to call for investments in design, process, infrastructure, people and scalable technology that can work under tremendous pressure and in unpredictable conditions. Citizens must demand that smart city initiatives be developed in collaboration with them. It is citizens that will pay for the new systems and infrastructure – and it is the lives of citizens that will demonstrate the largest impact. It is only natural that smart cities ensure that citizens are kept at the center of all decisions.
Enterprises will become stake holders in smart cities as they develop, deliver and integrate infrastructure and operational processes for new governance models, energy and environment conservation techniques, mobility solutions, traffic management, solid waste management, garbage/ waste water disposal/ recycling/ reuse and security solutions.
Most importantly, administrations and governments must carefully consider the architecture of their smart cities. For these will become the icons for openness, inclusivity, engagement, speed and efficiency. The leadership of states and nations will help shape and implement innovative governance models, environments that attract talent, throw up new employment opportunities and become the focal point of investments.
Underlying the diverse needs of stakeholders is the reality of managing the investments made in the smart cities of the future. These cities may be relatively easy to transform. But can the transformation be sustained and enhanced over the long term? Financial prudence, particularly in the context of Indian cities, will be the key to success as cities take a long term view of their smart goals.
Clever and canny strategy combined with judicious investments will ensure that city administrations create urban areas that become widely recognized and celebrated as manufacturing hubs, heritage cities, knowledge centers, financial hubs, tourism destinations and IT powerhouses. These are the cities that will display early intent by sporting their own Chief Innovations Officers and Smart City Councils that direct investments and adopt technology for creating the mega cities of tomorrow which in turn will drive entire economies.

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