The NDA government’s vision for India includes, amongst other things, the creation of 100 smart cities. As India struggles with infrastructure deficits, a focus on smart cities is turning out to be one of the best ways forward. It is important, however, to define a ‘smart city’. The three prerequisites are a community that is efficient, liveable and sustainable. In conventional cities the water, gas, electricity, transportation, emergency services, buildings and public service systems operate independently in silos. But a truly efficient city requires that the performance of each system is optimised and managed in an integrated manner to better prioritise spends and maximise value.
Such an efficient city would also propel a community on the path to being competitive for talent, investments and jobs by becoming more liveable. The city administrators would need to do a slew of things to make it a pleasant place to live, work and play. Accordingly, it should appeal to residents, commuters and visitors.
The sustainable community will reduce the environmental consequences of urban life to make the city more efficient and liveable. This is critical because cities are the largest contributors of carbon. The roads, public spaces and buildings emit the bulk of a city’s emissions. Efficient, cleaner and sustainable operations in all these areas can curb a city’s environmental footprint.
Smart cities are imperative in emerging as well as established economies. Emerging economies such as India, China and Brazil require smart cities because growing populations hold pressing short-term needs. These include flood preparedness, preventing blackouts, traffic de-congestion, crowd control and curbing logistical difficulties that accompany fast-paced urbanisation.
In some regions, new cities are being built from scratch, allowing smart city infrastructure to be developed in the first instance. For cash-strapped economies, budgets to improve city facilities may be hard to generate. But smart city solutions actually curb costs by eliminating or reducing the need to invest in new infrastructure capacity. Worldwide, most cities may evolve towards becoming smart cities via incremental improvements in individual systems. A city struggling with traffic congestion may feel the need for a series of flyovers. But financial constraints drive it to settle for an interim step of deploying traffic management technologies to its existing infrastructure.
Traffic-choked Mumbai is a classic case. To optimise traffic at 253 crossings, Mumbai deployed real-time, adaptive traffic control systems. A central traffic management control centre supervises and reacts to traffic disruptions. Consequently, there has been a