The smartness of an object or construct lies in its ability to harmonise itself with those connected to it.
What does it take to build something smart? Is it technology, good design or something else. Even if the object combines all these factors, how does one even adjudge this smartness? A digital wayfinding map makes complete sense in an upscale neighbourhood in London but renders itself pointless in an arid African settlement. The answer to building something smart usually, if not always, lies in context. In some cases, pure functionality determines the smartness of an object or even a city; in others, the social relevance and environmental efficiency earns it the ´smart´ title.
Sumit Chowdhury, Founder, Gaia Smart Cities, puts forth an interesting point in noting that everything, living and non-living, is connected. In fact, his project Gaia Smart Cities is based on the same principal of all objects and living, in constant communication to keep the earth in balance. Chowdhury further goes on to outline the integral steps in building a smart anything; in this case, the anything being a city. The process is as follows:
These steps set the process in place. The process to build a smart city or anything for a smart society requires identifying key factors that will influence the same. In the case of smart cities, the most significant areas to build smart include:
Creating efficient utilities: Building renewable energy-friendly systems and tools for effluent recycling, water harvesting, smart meters and solid waste disposal methods is the first ´anything´ a city needs to build in order to ensure smartness. Inclusive systems: Alarms and CCTVs, intensive patrolling, amply lit public areas, etc, are essential to ensure safety. Cities also need to focus on building mobility systems for every citizen including the physically-disabled and the mentally-challenged.
Public-private partnerships: PPPs will provide the much needed capital for further development and ensure efficiency, utility delivery and good standards of service.
Financial sustainability: The government needs to step in to ensure appropriate use of various sources of revenue. This would require a consistent commitment to boosting the economy and creating employment opportunities.
Information, communication and technology (ICT): ICT can play a vital role in transparent governance, public utilities, mobility, eco-friendly practices and more. The Karnataka Mobile One app is one such example wherein citizens were involved in the e-governance process through mobile phones.
Social infrastructure: The need for public spaces, hospitals, schools, recreational areas and entertainment venues cannot be ignored. This will improve the overall quality of life by infusing a sense of well-being among citizens.
Transit-oriented habitats: Basic infrastructure enabling citizens to ´walk to work´ promotes not only a healthier lifestyle but curbs emissions to a great extent.
Green features: Simple introduction of open spaces, parks combined with increased use of renewables and the introduction of recycling processes can support a city´s ecosystem in a big way.
The premise of building anything smart extends beyond the conventional definition of smartness, especially in the case of smart cities. Either way, this smartness is almost never effective when considering these elements in singularity, as they are at the end of it all, cogs of a larger machine.
´Smartness lies in seeing patterns and connections between everything living and non-living.´
- Sumit Chowdhury, Founder, Gaia Smart Cities (speaking at UltraTech presents India Under Construction ´Smart SoCIeTY´ conference in New Delhi on November 28, 2015)