smart citizens

Thought Leader & Eminent Speaker on Digital India/ Smart Cities/ Digital Wallet/Industrial Internet of things in India and Abroad. Serving on Panel of Tele-consulting experts for Mckinsey & Company, Gartner Inc, KPMG, Gerson Lehrman group, Ernst &Young as well as on DRDO and Ministry of Defence. Ex-Consultant for ONGC, Ministry of Oil & Gas.

A city is a reflection of how its citizens perceive it, and a smart city actually is how a city behaves as an innovative ecosystem. There is no such thing as a standard template or a magic all-in-one smart city application.

smart cities

Allowing citizens to become active in the process of city design and building enabling ‘bottom-up’ innovation and collaborative ways of developing systems out of many loosely-joined parts will help in implementing the Smart City Mission successfully.

While globally accepted pillars of smart cities planning remain as the following four, there happens to be one Pivot – Smart Citizens!


The Four Pillars

CONNECTIVITY- First Pillar

More than just a pillar, Connectivity is the foundation of smart planning. Internet of Things sensors relies on their ability to transmit data in real time, which aid in smart planning decisions. Furthermore, connectivity has become a utility, equal in importance to gas and electricity. The Internet is making our world smaller, connecting our rural communities to our urban cores, and creating jobs along the way.

MOBILITY- Second Pillar

Improvements to our existing physical transportation infrastructure are necessary to accommodate population growth and business needs. But mobility is about more than getting from place to place; it’s about providing access to education and job training, advancing careers and growing businesses.

SECURITY- Third Pillar

Physical and cybersecurity are equally important in a connected region. IoT-provided data can identify problem areas and guide law enforcement strategies, while state-of-the-art encryption and active network surveillance protect our businesses, schools, municipal networks, and IoT sensors from malicious intrusions.

SUSTAINABILITY- Fourth Pillar

By being mindful of sustainability during the construction of new buildings and the implementation of other Smart Cities solutions, we can reduce costs while protecting our natural resources and improving quality of life. Sustainable practices provide benefits across all sectors, from agriculture to heavy industry, from residential to commercial and everywhere in between.

smart cities

The most vital aspect interconnecting these pillars are the citizens who live and work in these cities — must be integral to the implementation process as well. The success of the Mission is firmly vested in smart citizens.

A smart citizen is the one who has civic sense and respects the law. Some of the unanswered questions about smart cities as far as citizen participation is concerned are:

  • Will people obey the traffic rules, drive within speed limits and desist from jumping signals?
  • Will they put pedestrians first?
  • Will they respect elders and give way to senior citizens?
  • Will they park their vehicles at designated spots and not anywhere else?
  • Will they maintain hygiene not only their flats but also in the common areas of their apartment complexes?
  • Will they throw garbage only in bins and practice source segregation during garbage disposal?

Awareness about smart solutions plays a crucial role in developing true smart citizens. Though the local authorities of our smart cities will make substantial investments in smart solutions, they cannot skimp on efforts to raise citizen awareness on the efficient use of these solutions and services.

For example, energy saving cannot be achieved merely with smart meters in a home. In order to reduce energy consumption and save money on bills, consumers need to not only monitor their energy use but also make an effort to change the whole family’s daily energy usage behaviour.

This would include shifting to energy-efficient appliances, reducing TV time, and switching off electrical appliances when not in use, especially during peak periods.

A smart city connects people with their environment and city to create more efficient and optimal relationships between available resources, technology, community services, and events in the urban fabric. This connection is a tool that links the implementation of the smart city and the proposed technology.

Most developed cities ensure that citizens participate in every aspect, from cleaning to safety requirements. Citizen participation ensures citizen satisfaction, which in turn ensures maximum efficiency of the proposed technology.

smart cities

In an increasingly complex world, citizens’ inputs are a critical resource for policy-making. Good decision-making requires the knowledge, experiences, views, and values of the public. The participation of citizens has become simpler through online government portals. Good

e-Governance is always measured by the extent to which it involves its citizens in the overall decision-making process.

Such participation reduces the conflict of opinions and makes implementation easier. Smart citizens need to be fully inclusive, innovative and sustainable.

The Centre’s introduction to the Smart Cities Mission (SCM) states that ‘…there is no one way of defining a smart city…’ and that it ‘…means different things to different people.’ This ambiguity provides the mission with an abstract beauty that could ease it from accountability, in ways that a precise definition would have ill-afforded. Given that we are three years into a mission with a substantial budget, at present at over ₹ 1900 billion and growing, it is important to examine the core concept and ask: What does an Indian smart city look like?

First, the mission is malleable and adapts to the NDA government’s evolving positions on urban development. It first appeared in the BJP’s manifesto in March 2014 with the intent of “…building 100 new cities.” During the July 2014 budget speech, this objective morphed into building “satellite cities” and “modernizing the existing mid-sized cities”. Finally by 2015, when the draft smart cities note was circulated, the focus shifted to ‘compact areas’ within existing cities to ‘create a replicable model’, which would inspire similar urban regeneration across the nation. Thus, the concept transitioned drastically from creating cities from scratch to improving small areas in existing cities.

Second, a majority of the projects under the mission would be considered ‘unsmart’ as global definitions of smart city assume a high dependence on technology, IT and big data to solve urban problems efficiently. The mission rejects this notion as the budget for IT in the top 60 cities is below 22%. Given that India has a deficit in provisioning urban infrastructure, this is perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the mission.

Third, the mission does not ensure a rights-based form of urban regeneration despite frequently referring to inclusive and participatory processes that promote democratic decision-making. The chasm lies between intent and recorded actions, as fewer than half the proposals could quantify the number of people that were approached and who gave feedback, both online and in-person. Forms of public participation and consent have evolved significantly in the last few decades and if the proposals are unable to indicate the incorporation of these processes there is little to suggest that the mission will lead to inclusive development for all.

Fourth, the mission could further urban inequality. The two primary forms of urban development envisioned under it are area-based development (ABD) and pan-city development.

As the categories indicate, the first comprises projects focused on a particular area, whereas, the latter comprises solutions that reach out to the wider city.

The smart city budgets, which are sourced from public and private sources, range from under  ₹ 10 billion to over ₹ 55 billion with a bulk of this funding funneled into small portions.

This process could exacerbate existing inequalities in cities because only selected portions of cities are improved with a high financial investment that might prove difficult to replicate at a pan-city level in the future, or even in other cities outside the mission.

The concept of the Indian smart city seems to create a very expensive and localized development, which focuses on core infrastructure with limited citizen engagement.

This inferred definition should provoke the government to review the mission.

(The views in the above article is Author’s based on his own personal and professional experience and inputs from Leading Newspapers of the country, images used in this article are picked from public knowledge domain over the cloud. The author reserves his right to publish the information in totality or in part elsewhere as well.

Without distortion, anyone may use the information /facts, so that it may not hurt any individual/ organisation as such. This article is targeted to create awareness amongst citizens to enable them to gear themselves up for a new role as smart citizens.

Image – Pixabay, Sergio Souza via Unsplash

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