´Smart city´ takes a new meaning in the Indian context.
The utopian smart city is structured and uniform; symmetry being second nature to it. It caters to specific, individual demands for luxury and convenience, and yet, takes into account the interests of the masses. Like the smart city itself, the ideology of what makes a city smart is modular - built to fit in any given scenario. Yet, this utopian smart city is malleable, it can adapt to the predictable, and evolve to confront the unforeseen.
The shifting paradigm
Is it this modular city that India needs? By the year 2050, 70 per cent of the country´s population would have moved to cities. An equally staggering percentage of rural areas would have ´upgraded´ to the town or city status. The answer does not lie in building new cities to deal with urbanisation. Sure, building greenfield smart cities seems like an immediate and convenient response to the problem. However, given the present scenario of land acquisition in India, counting on greenfield projects to save grace is not the best way forward.
Smart city in the backdrop of evolving Indian society
If Prime Minister Narendra Modi´s ambition to create 98 smart cities does come to fruition, Indian cities will have a lot to gain from this vision. This, of course, depends on whether these smart cities are, by design, created keeping its people in mind. In theory, these will address several problems affecting the current urban landscape such as good infrastructure; smart, citizen-oriented solutions from electronic service delivery to waste treatment; a sustainable model for housing; employment; better mobility; development to boost the city´s economy; and means to improve environmental conditions.
The cities that do live up to the challenge and secure the Rs 100 crore per year funding for the next five years will face a unique set of challenges:
Financing these cities: According to the High Power Expert Committee on Investment Estimates in Urban Infrastructure, each one of these cities will require Rs 35,000 crore per year to meet the set target, a staggering Rs 34,900 crore more than what the government is willing to contribute.
Master plans: Unfortunately, more than 70 per cent of cities in India have no such plans to begin with.
Timely completion: This calls for efficient coordination between local, state and Central governments, and MoUD.
Collation of multi-vendor software: In most cases, city-specific software infrastructure is sourced from a number of different vendors. The efficient combination of these solutions originating from diverse technology becomes a significant challenge.
Reliable utility services: The current system for supply and distribution is not capable of providing these.
Collaborating stakeholders: Getting stakeholders of smart cities to collaborate towards a common goal.
The answer lies in investing in the evolutionary transformation of existing cities rather than revolutionary development of greenfield smart cities. The typical Indian city, in actuality, is a macrocosm of micro-cities. It comprises multitudes of social, cultural and economic sub-cities. The city is defined by a paradigm shift in how we look at the Indian society at large. Urbanism is only one of the many factors that influence this shift. Technology, infrastructure and economic growth, all play a role in this shift. Equally telling, is the influence of poverty, exponentially increasing population, healthcare issues and climate change. The Indian society is a summation of all these contradictions and paradoxes.
´To think of smart cities and not smart societies, especially in the Indian context, is like putting the cart before the horse.´
- Sen Kapadia, Architect, Urban Planner & Educationist (speaking at UltraTech presents India Under Construction ´Smart SoCIeTY´ conference in New Delhi on November 28, 2015)