What makes a city Smart?
I’m again seeing a lot about Smart Cities in the media these days. There’s talk about Digital India and IoT thrown in for good measure. State Governments announce grandeur plans and bucket loads of money for smart city projects. And almost every month there’s a Smart City event in the country. Seems everyone smells a lucrative opportunity here and wants to hop on to the Smart City bandwagon.
But if you were to do an audit, how many Smart Cities will you find that are actually fully operational in the country? Money has been invested in infrastructure, but the residents have yet to check in. Case in point: Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT). The issue is, some aspect of the project has been incomplete or neglected.
I recently visited Hiranandani Gardens and Hiranandani Business Park, at Powai, Mumbai. And as I traversed through its clean streets, lined with parks and magnificent buildings, I felt as if I was in Europe. I’d like to think that Hiranandani Gardens is a Smart City. It is resourceful, self-sufficient, and well planned. Its residents enjoy a better quality of life than others in Mumbai.
I also see good examples in the various corporate parks that I visit in Mumbai (Max City) and Bangalore (RMZ EcoWorld).
So what is it that we really need to speed up the implementation of our smart city projects and see projects come to fruition?
I’d like to compare a smart city to a major international airport — both are beehives of activity. A lot of things go on in an airport, and it is operational 24 x 7 x 365.
Airports have centralised points of control: The ATC (Air Traffic Control), Ground Handling, Flight Dispatch, Security, Fire & Safety etc. And you know what — each point of control does not work in a silo — they are all interconnected and there is tremendous coordination and good communication between them all.
That’s what most of our smart city projects are lacking. Smart Cities must have an Operations Center with monitoring facilities and disaster and crime control.
STRONG PROJECT LEADER
I’d like to add, strong-minded, strong-willed, determined, and visionary to the list of attributes that a smart city project leader should have. He has to be a good leader and must have a special way of bringing people together and just making things happen.
A good example is Mr. E. Sreedharan, the “Metro Man”. He led the successful Delhi Metro project.
Smart cities are sophisticated projects that involve multiple entities: water, electricity, security, healthcare & sanitation, waste management, education, fire & safety, housing, markets, roads, buildings, parks etc.
So there needs to be extremely good planning — to integrate all aspects and make them work together.
While governments allocate crores of rupees for smart city projects, the project sometimes comes to a standstill due to lack of funds. And deadlines are not honored. To avoid this, ensure a smooth and continuous flow of funds and proper budgeting.
POLICY & DECISION MAKING
There is plenty of red tape and bureaucracy in India. Though Mr. Modi is trying his best to change this, it will take a while before this is obliterated.
This is another annoying deterrent and obstacle in smart city projects.
Everyone involved in a smart city project knows about what I’ve written in this article. Yet, we continue to see smart city projects fail or come to a halt.
We need more leaders like Mr. E. Sreedharan. We could also do with a complete mind-set change in government.
Funds do not seem to be a problem.
The real problem is human beings.