1. What role can academia play in the evolution smart cities

What role can academia play in the evolution smart cities

The government plans to establish 100 smart cities by 2022.

By: | Updated: August 17, 2015 12:27 AM

The government plans to establish 100 smart cities by 2022. Some indigenously and some with the help from friends across the globe. Smart cities can make urban centres more human-centric. The concept stands for cities that are modern in terms of facilities (infrastructure) and opportunities. The two are prerequisites to a fulfilling and progressive life. Such cities should have basic utilities—water, power, sanitation, sewage disposal, open spaces, effective and affordable transport—in place, along with the means of progress and livelihood. Healthcare, shopping spaces, educational institutes and means of livelihood to provide effective and rewarding employment opportunities to the residents are some of the integral elements.

Here, technology can be a crucial facilitator. Technology can help manage cities better with enhanced security, streamlined traffic, customised services at home and office (Internet of Things) and much more. But technology should be used in consonance with the sentiments and ethos of the place. It is an inclusive concept and should not weaken the social fabric.

Here it would be relevant to mention our ongoing efforts in the city of Nashik, Maharashtra. The city expects around 1 crore visitors during the ongoing Kumbh Mela. With support from globally leading institutes of technology, our young talent has been trying to find solutions to some of the challenges that mark such mammoth gatherings. These vary from apps to help people navigate the place, health services, arrangements for lodging and providing meals to the pilgrims. Technology remains at the heart of most of these initiatives.

The basic idea is to let the youth apply their learning to achieve the ultimate—making lives better, and eliminating chaos and misery. I am happy that possibly education can do that. Let Nashik be the example of an emerging smart city. The same can be replicated in other locations.

Here I must add that we have worked on renewables, in collaboration with Sweden—one of the top players in the space with high innovation quotient. We brought home some of the latest breakthroughs in the space, installed a biogas unit to process the wet waste on our premises. Today, it meets a fraction of our energy requirements. In healthcare, we worked on redesigning diagnostics, making it affordable to the common man. This was in collaboration with some international institutes. Similarly, on town planning we worked with an international organisation of industrial designers. And the results, two of our recommendations have been taken up for implementation. We have been working on civic sanitation and the upkeep of a railway station (Dadar, Central Mumbai) in consultation with the authorities concerned.

The point is that academia has a huge role to play, right from talent supply to attitudinal change in the society. A smart city will have optimal physical infrastructure and other life-support systems. These would need skilled human talent to establish and manage the same sustainably. The talent—whether in IT, engineering, town planning or energy—will come from institutes that train them. Academia has a whole lot on its shoulders. The educators have to be active agents of social change in favour of the concept. They have to mobilise the public opinion in favour of new changes, thus creating acceptance for the new. The society has to be educated about the new practices to be adopted and attitudinal changes have to be brought in. They have to be oriented towards the practice of responsible decision-making, as citizens who are conscious of their actions and their impact on the broader world or the society. The concepts of frugality and ecological accountability of one’s action have to be activated and brought to the fore.

The challenges can be numerous. Most knotty ones will include attitudinal changes, funds, huge population, migration, power and compliance with technology. These have to be delicately worked upon. If the public sees through the accruing benefits, they would cooperate. Also, the plan will involve multiple stakeholders. Coordination and unanimity among them has to be conjured.

Smart cities will create lot of career opportunities for the youth at all levels. They will draw upon skill from almost all the orbits. Engineers, IT, town planners, energy professionals, management professionals, strategists and professionals from various streams will be needed to give the idea the desired shape. Academics, health professionals, hospitality professionals, all have a role to play. For easy execution of the concept, we need visionary and charismatic thought leadership. Educators touch base with a huge segment of the youth on a daily basis. It is not difficult for them to implant seeds of social change.

The author is group director, Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research, Mumbai

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