Smart cities, really ?

The following article is based on my own interpretation of the said events. Any material borrowed from published and unpublished sources has been appropriately referenced. I will bear the sole responsibility for anything that is found to have been copied or misappropriated or misrepresented in the following post.

Mayank Goel, MBA 2015-17, Vinod Gupta School of Management, IIT Kharagpur

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Indian developmental needs: Do smart cities address them?

At the very moment of conception of the smart cities campaign, the government was all praised and hailed for the sheer magnitude and ambition of the project. Government of India in order to address urbanization needs of country decided to make 100 cities to be ‘smart cities’. There’s no simple definition for smart cities. The term encompasses a vision of an urban space that is ecologically friendly, technologically integrated and meticulously planned, with a particular reliance on the use of information technology to improve efficiency. In most parts of the world, the idea begins with using digital technology to make a city more efficient and to improve well being.

Traditional ideas of smart cities suggest smart data collection, using sensors – electricity, gas, water, traffic and other government analytics – that can be carefully compiled and integrated into a smart grid and then fed into computers that can focus on making the city as efficient as possible. For this ambitious voyage government this year decided upon to allocate 100cr rupees per city per year for next five years.

In this vociferous celebration of smartness and urbanization the fundamental underlying questions still remain unanswered as -do smart cities cater to urbanization needs of India? Is this a sustainable model? With the population of India rising constantly and exponentially orienting towards urban area how these smart cities will address their needs and expectations poses a reverberating question. It is expected that more than 600 million populations will be living in urban areas by 2030.

Consider a situation where you built a castle in the middle of the city which has no doors and is accessible to anyone who is willing. Since the resources, space and service capabilities have physical constraints and you can’t deny anyone the services or space what you will do? You will increase the price of space, services and resources to such exorbitant level that only those having a strong financial backing will be able to meet the costs. So again those at lower level of pyramid are left behind and this time in a more isolated, opportunity deprived martial lands. This depicts the humiliating tale of smart cities for those who can’t bear the cost of smartness.

Since inclusion of everyone in these cities is not feasible and also exclusion is not permissible by law, So there will be whole new range of problem for the modern India where there will be a surge of peoples rushing to these cities in chase of opportunities and equally lot getting disgruntled for not getting them. So the bigger question is Do these smart cities cater to urbanization needs or are they leading us to a more dreadful challenge of ‘too many people chasing too few resources’’?

If we look closely at the rural India it is the part which has been most modernization deprived since the times. When living costs and cost for space are burgeoning in urban areas, these rural areas are the one which offer low cost space solution for the growing needs of SMEs and startups but what holds back these organizations is sheer lack of infrastructure in rural India. This mutual opportunity for rural India for employment and infrastructure development and for SMEs and startups to have low cost space solutions has always been the most undermined interest.

So the question ahead for proponents of smart cities is, On one hand they have vast rural India waiting to be tapped and developed while on other hand they have urban India already burgeoning with prices and space issues. So do we need a ‘smart-ization of cities’ or ‘modernization of rural India’?

 

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