New frontier: Smart cities go beyond just using tech tools

New Delhi | Updated: Aug 9 2014, 15:26pm hrs
Smart CityOne of the key things that our cities lack is smart inclusive infrastructure.
Ever since information technology and computer devices have entered our lives, the word smart has become the most fashionable prefix. More specifically, in the area of public governance, governments have been using smart governance, in the place of e-governance, as the new mantra for improving service delivery.

In fact, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission in 2008, spoke about SMART governance, referring to SMART as an acronym for simple, moral, accountable, responsive and transparent government. The underlying driver for SMART governance is information technology. In management terminology, SMART is an acronym which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Taking an overall view, the basic idea is to ensure that efficiency is enhanced by using modern information technology.

Nearly 30 per cent of Indian population lives in cities and towns. Urban areas are an assembly of a complex web of public administration, local governance and management systems. One need not emphasise the problems that city dwellers face today on account of the orthodox ways in which these have been addressed in the past for historical reasons. Today, however, smart governance systems hold a promise of hope. It is widely speculated that with the introduction of modern IT driven systems, we can greatly reduce our problems and bring about greater efficiency.

In fact, efficiency is believed to be the key take away in smart cities. According to one scholar, A city can be defined as smart when investments in human and social capital and traditional (transport) and modern communication infrastructure fuel sustainable economic development and a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources, through participatory action and engagement.. While this may be a very general and academic definition, the underlying idea is the usage of ICT technologies to solve urban problems.


Smart Infrastructure: One of the key things that our cities lack is smart inclusive infrastructure. Providing smart infrastructure in terms of roads, cycle tracks, pedestrian pathways, public toilets, water and sewer networks, street lighting networks, signal systems, gas supply systems, solid waste management systems, drainage networks, safety and security devices, etc. are all very important for efficient, healthy, safe and sustainable urban living. In all these, IT plays a role no doubt, but more importantly, good town planning, public health engineering, architecture and civic design are essential ingredients. The role of IT comes only as a support to the core activity, that too in a limited manner.

Smart Mobility: Urban mobility is integral to city living. For a variety of reasons, be it for work, education, recreation, etc., trips have to be made by children, the able bodied, physically challenged and the elderly. One is willing to pay, provided there is are fast, comfortable and adequate options available at all reasonable times of the day. Today, there are many technologies available and being tried out. What we need is implementation and integration of these so that the last mile connectivity is not left out and a seamless travel experience is available. However, technologies themselves have to be a combination of engineering, design and management solutions. Starting from walkways to cycles, three wheelers, battery operated vehicles, cars, taxis, low floor buses, metro trains, maglev, mono rail, etc. there are many engineering options that can be introduced to make mobility experience in cities smart.

Smart Resource Management: Water, energy and waste are key resources in the city. The need to manage these in terms of ensuring equitable distribution, ensuring minimum levels of supply, minimising leakage, maintaining environmental quality and creating modern technology options. Technology here would mostly be in the realm of public health engineering for water and waste management and power systems.

Smart Housing: For people to live in a smart city, smart housing is an essential ingredient. The city today is a congregation of a wide variety of human s having different life styles and income earning and spending capabilities. We need a whole range of options for all, both in the ownership as well as in the rental segment. Most cities today have reasonably good housing but which is exorbitantly priced and meeting the requirements of a select few. To develop affordable housing options for the large majority is a very big challenge and no software can solve that. What is needed here is a combination of innovative speedy development of high density suburbs, rapid connectivity, creation of social infrastructure for families to live in affordable locations away from the parent city and still commute quickly back and forth. We need a high degree of commitment from the governments on various fronts to make this happen.

Smart Statutory Management Systems: At the root of developing smart cities is the statutory and governance regime. We need urban development laws that facilitate development, not restrict or hamper. Time and again, we have been voicing the concern of reforming various urban laws. A lot of room is still there for reform of our statutes in the urban arena. Further, we have constitutionally mandated urban local governance participatory systems which cannot be ignored. There is a huge baggage of organisational structures which need to be infused with a new vision and new ways of smart working. Ultimately, a smart city has to be managed by smart and knowledgeable human resources.

Smart Financing: The fund allocation in this Budget is only a drop in the ocean. Central allocation can never match the overall requirement of funds in our cities, even if it is for just Rs 100 crore out of the Rs 7,060 crore. Therefore, we need to explore ways of involving private capital investments and build-operate models where there is a win-win for all parties concerned. Therefore, project structuring on a commercially viable methodology is the need of the hour.

In India, a large number of smart initiatives have been undertaken, albeit in a piecemeal manner, in various cities. In almost all the areas mentioned , we have examples islands of excellence. The key concern is not having isolated examples of excellence but replication on a large scale across geographies.


As the key policy driver, the Union ministry of urban development needs to undertake a series of brainstorming exercises and consultations and develop the overall programme architecture for the 100 Smart Cities Initiative. For this, stakeholders from across the country need to be brought under a common umbrella for clear role identification. We also need to be clear on whether we desire to retrofit existing cities with smart features or we want to develop smart cities as new towns. This has serious implications in terms of land.

What India needs is not smartness from the IT sector alone but a range of town planning, engineering, technology, material science, architecture and civic design disciplines which need to be amalgamated into a cogent, comprehensive and connected Smart City Plan, which can be implemented in a time bound manner. We need this basic infrastructure first. IT alone cannot be a solution as is being made out to be in some quarters. It can only be a support system for smart city planning and management and not the driver.

P S N Rao

(The author is a senior Professor and Head, Centre for Future Cities, SPA-New Delhi)