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From Smart To Future Smart

Indian cities are different from what a city is defined as in the West. We have a distinct social fabric which has to be kept in mind while planning our smart cities

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Since the Modi government launched its ambitious Smart Cities Mission in 2015 to develop 100 smart cities, considerable progress has been made even as the pace of work is picking up.

Pune, for instance, has seen maximum progress under the mission in terms of completion of projects undertaken. Of the Rs 36,600 crore sanctioned towards the Smart Cities Mission, projects worth more than Rs 1,000 have already been completed. Projects worth Rs 1,500 crore have already been tendered or are work in progress.

Bhopal and Ahmedabad follow Pune in terms of progress made, according to a report by AmCham and PwC titled ‘Snapshot of projects under lighthouse Smart Cities’, which offers solutions-based update on eight lighthouse smart cities.

Some of the iconic projects executed by cities include a Command and Control Centre in Pune to monitor over 2,000 buses; monetisation of the land for the BRT corridor in Ahmedabad via optical fibre cabling; the launch in Bhopal of a citizen safety app called Bhopal Plus and a Public Bike Sharing app with 25000 registered users, according to the report.

Vizag has undertaken work on pollution monitoring systems, construction of solar rooftops, shore protection along beach roads, construction of a solar city, beach beautification projects and disaster management and e-government projects.

However, a lot of ground needs to be covered under the mission before Indian cities can become smart and truly world class and be counted amongst the top cities of the world.

The task before the planners and designers is enormous, says experts. According to them, Indian cities are very different from what a city is defined as in the West. We have a distinct social fabric which has to be kept in mind while planning the smart cities.

As more and more Indians migrate to urban areas, Indian cities are set to become larger than a lot of countries in terms of population and GDP. Already, nearly 30 per cent of India’s one billion-plus population lives in cities – which is equal to the population of the US. By 2031, close to 600 million Indians are expected to live in cities. Hence, our cities will have to be future ready to be able to cater to such a big population.

Urbanization on a large scale is also set to create significant opportunities in cities not only for citizens but for the businesses and solution providers as well, leading to social and economic development.

So much about the future of our cities. But what about the future of our smart cities? Is it foreseeable?

With technology changing at a rapid pace, what seems science fiction today will be reality tomorrow. Artificial intelligence (AI), IoT, machine learning, deep learning, data analytics have just begun to give us a glimpse of what the future will look like.

A massive restructuring is needed today to back our future generations. The Indian government began the year by adding nine more cities to its Smart Cities Mission taking the total to 99 and increasing the outlay to Rs 2.04 lakh crore. The Union Budget too allocated Rs 6,169 crore to the mission for 2018-19.

Urbanization and infrastructure are both an opportunity as well as a challenge for the government and can be addressed only when there is a synergy between the private sector on one hand and the government on the other to take the developmental agenda ahead.

While there is a lot of stress on improving the infrastructure, the sustenance aspect also needs to be considered when planning the cities of the future -- we need to take care of our ecosystem and preserve our nature too.

Environmental sustainability is of paramount importance. We cannot have smart cities unless our citizens have fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink.

Hence, it is time to see the bigger picture along with all the developmental push to our cities.

Our cities must address the issue of social equity as well, which relates to the quality of life for our citizens, since people are integral to this whole mission.

A common culture of cooperation and social justice needs to be inculcated in our people to make our cities truly transformative and sustainable. Civic engagement should be at the core of the government’s agenda to develop smart and resilient cities.

Thus, the holistic aspect of cities of future with disruptive technology at the heart of it as well as the importance of preserving our natural resources should be the focus of our current dispensation and authorities alike.

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