What makes a city smart? Its people? Who governs it or how it’s governed? What if a city was self-governed by people who are smart?

Let’s start with how one can access this smart city. Roads – not just well-constructed, but with clear and tactical planning put into place before the road was actually constructed. This also means building service roads for every main one.

Think of the city as a heart that needs big, wide arteries and a greater number of sub-arteries, much smaller in size, but equally important.

The idea of city-states comes from the ancient Greek cities of Athens, Sparta and Thebes. Relevant examples in today’s modern world are Singapore, Vatican City and Monaco.

In India, Chandigarh, Jamshedpur and Bhubaneswar come close to how these places are planned.

Smart cities and city-states can be defined as one. These are known for their seamless planning and implementation of each and every amenity that is provided to its citizens — excellent public transportation, housing, potable drinking water, proper sanitation and drainage systems.

Having autonomous rule means citizens do not have to constantly rush to the local authorities for assistance or authorisation.

CITY OF DREAMS OR CHAOS?

The Boston Consulting Group says 31 per cent of our population lives in cities and this number will go up to 35 per cent by 2020. India has 50 (2011) cities with a population of over 1 million, up from 35 in 2001, and set to hit 87 by 2031.

Mumbai, while being known for its ability to provide livelihood for one and all, is known for having the highest population density in the world: close to 30,000 people per sq.km, about three times that of Delhi.

Yet with its local rail network, many consider Mumbai to be better planned than its urban counterparts.

While it is understandable that world-class infrastructure projects such as the Metro and Mono Rail involve investment from all concerned, what makes it complicated to get these projects on track is the involvement of multiple agencies. In Mumbai alone, there are dozens. There’s Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), the state Road Development Corporation (MSRDC).

AT THE CLICK OF A BUTTON

Technology can be a great leveller, if used correctly. It can offer a one-stop solution to traffic management by providing regular and correct updates to citizens about public transport; it can help in water and waste management; channelise power and energy sans wastage. Citizens can avail services online and authorities can reduce their work load by integrating technological platforms and traditional methods.

The biggest challenge is changing the mindset of millions, who are used to traditional modes of operation, to switch to electronic modes.

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission aims to introduce e-governance in all municipalities for transparent and accountable governance. Financial assistance is provided for the redevelopment of old cities, water supply, waste management, etc.

Ahmedabad and the twin towns of Pimpri-Chinchwad are excellent examples of Smart Cities. Pimpri-Chinchwad offers a range of online services, be it birth registration, property tax payment or death certificate.

The ‘Aadhaar’ card is a great starting point. Once it is properly implemented, each and every citizen of the country will have his personal and financial credentials mapped to a unique number.

If all local bodies, State governments, service providers such as banks, blood banks, hospitals adopt technology, it will result in the exchequer saving a lot of the public’s monies.

Some cities are taking the lead. Surat, for example, has an online water quality monitoring system; Greater Hyderabad uses GPRS to track solid waste management. In fact, maintenance of parks and street lights is done with the help of citizens, who send pictures via their mobiles.

The utopian smart city will have excellent road and rail network, clean water supply, hygienic sewage and waste management systems, equal distribution of power/energy, transportation that is smart and fuel-efficient, pollution levels that are under control, local bodies and government that are operational at all levels, and transparent.

All this should be at the click of a button with no ‘conditions apply’ caution.

(The author is MD & CEO, Tata Housing)

(This article was published on February 7, 2013)
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