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Target Sustainability, Become Smart

Target Sustainability, Become Smart

The smart city development framework in India needs to evolve around the goals for sustainable development.
New age concerns of resource optimization, climate change impacts, financial situation of urban bodies, etc., have given rise to new brands of cities such as green cities, eco cities, inclusive cities, resilient cities, sustainable cities and smart cities. As the world prepares to move from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), today´s Indian cities, as global entities, must chalk out their growth path based on the SDGs to ensure a sustainable existence. There is no argument against it. So, 100 smart cities, as envisaged by the Indian government, need to have a sustainable roadmap in order to be branded as ´smart´.

Urban Sustainability Framework
The Urban Sustainability Framework is a holistic and integrated approach incorporating the three pillars of sustainability (environmental stewardship, social equity and economic efficiency). Evaluation and monitoring of sustainability changes over time according to this framework and emphasises that the assessment of sustainability is a complementary outcome, rather than a competing one. It is a challenge to satisfy all three pillars of sustainability; choices have to be made that are aligned to the vision of a sustainable city, and serious trade-offs need to be accepted. It is to be understood that sustainability is about the long term, the impacts of sustainable initiatives will be in the future, and maybe somewhere else too. On the contrary, short -term impacts of change can be felt now and here-thus there is resistance and also a tendency towards inertia. This is perhaps the biggest challenge. Thus, strong policy commitments, government incentives (for sustainable initiatives) and user charges (for polluters), and new comprehensive planning processes emphasising collaboration and performance measurement and monitoring are needed. Strong leader¡ship and commitment to the vision of sustainability is the necessary condition in this approach. Sustainability with respect to adaptation and mitigation strategies should be a part of the planning process, and not an afterthought.

Sustainability and Smart Cities
While an academic view on smart cities clearly highlights sustainability, the corporate sector´s definition of a smart city is overwhelmingly based on Information and Communication Technology (ICT), with limited recognition of governance and the sustainability framework. Although technology could be an equaliser in itself, a ´Digital Divide´ may creep in at various stages of an ICT-dominated smart city development path due to the gross inequality among people´s access to technology and their ability to leverage technology in a developing country like India. Thus we need to begin by asking the very basic question: Why do cities exist? The answers point towards the pillars of the sustainable development concept. This understanding can be further translated into a workable reference for smart city development in India.

Recommended Framework
The framework links city objectives to the SDGs through a set of indicators, derived from different brands of cities (including ISO indicators for smart cities). The focus of this framework is essentially more towards outcome-driven indicators rather than asset-driven ones. The regular notions of infrastructure availability may not adequately assess sector performance, especially the ´wellbeing´ of a city and satisfaction of citizens. This framework, as shown in the accompanying figure, will allow an assessment of the baseline data of a city through the sustainability lens under four tenets, namely: equity-signifying access and coverage; efficiency-of use of resources, finances and human power, reliability and quality of services, and its user friendliness; forward looking-signifying a commitment to long term and robust initiatives including capacity building and wellbeing of the city-capturing overall liveability conditions in a city including aesthetics and functionality and safety aspects, which also build an image of a city thus enhancing its competitiveness. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, these match broadly with the goals of smart city development as stated by the government as well.

In due course, gaps will be identified under this framework, paving the way to understanding and identifying projects that may enable minimizing and ultimately negating these gaps thereby improving the baseline of cities.

Smart cities need to be sustainable in order to ensure successful returns on investments. The smart city development framework proposed, is the first step required for creating a sustainable development roadmap for cities in India. This will take time and effort in terms of data collection, analysis, careful contextual planning, and creating an enabling system comprising of relevant policies and regulations that will allow a nuanced approach to a smart, and yet sustainable, city roadmap. This will entail substantial structural reform within and outside the government and require the involvement of communities to sustain the success of the smart city initiative in the long term.

Dr Sudhir Krishna, Former Secretary, Ministry of Urban Development
Along with international case studies, we could also have national case studies to help us analyse the positive and not-so-positive features of the case at hand. It will also be a learning experience for us. Second, smart city planning is critical and should be the starting point and other themes should become part of smart city planning. We have tried to define the objectives of a smart city and what exactly we want to achieve in that smartness. It should be efficient, transparent, sustainable, inclusive, safe and competitive.

Pradipta Sen, President-India, Middle East And Africa, Emerson Electric Co.
We are a huge population and the cities are growing rapidly. Tier-II cities will become Tier-I cities in 10-15 years, so what today may not be an opportunity because it doesn´t qualify as a city, is tomorrow´s opportunity. We should look at making a beginning somewhere, using that as a workable model if it is successful and rolling it out in as many locations as possible, given the limitations of money, infrastructure resources, etc.

Manjul Trehan, Country Head & Director Sales, Lutron Electronics India & SAARC
The recent talk about developing smart cities – a city comprising homes that promise high quality of life ably supported by ´sustainable´ and ´efficient´ use of resources in India and provisioning them with 24 hour Wi-Fi systems, has certainly provided a much needed impetus to the establishment of Home Automation Systems – centralised control of lighting, HVAC (Heating, ventilation & air-conditioning) appliances, security locks of gates and doors and other systems, for improved convenience, comfort, energy efficiency and security. Home Automation has gained popularity especially with the Internet of Things. Smart homes are sustainable homes. Being smart and adopting energy efficient technologies will undoubtedly be the future of the housing industry.

Shankar Aggarwal, former Secretary, Ministry of Urban Development
All the 100 proposed smart cities will be brownfield projects. But in Phase I, we are going to identify on the basis of city challenges, that is, what kind of initiatives have been taken by them in the area of good governance, in the area of making the city simpler for business and enterprises, and their commitment for the future also. By 31st of March, we will be in a position to get some kind of clarity on the city challenges, as to which cities will be selected as a project for a smart city.

The smart city projects will be based on PPP model and this time the government has taken lot of well-measured initiatives to make this PPP model work successfully. If a city turns from a non-smart to a smart city, productivity will improve tremendously.

Ved Prakash, Head-Government Markets & Affairs, 3M
The USP of the Sm@rt Cities Summit needs to be elaborated upon as well as the tangible outputs we are getting out of it. We can present eight to 10 actionable items to the government. We all are aware of what a smart city is. Now we need to move to the execution and the how part, where the state and ULBs are involved and they need to be given a fair representation. Also, we must ascertain what the economic activity is that will make a smart city get its population.

Prof Dr PSN Rao, Chairman, Delhi Urban Arts Commission
You need to make the existing cities smart and at the same time you also need to create new smart cities. Existing cities need to be made smart because they already have a lot of problems and they need to be tackled because they have a lot of potential. These existing cities need to be made smart by improving and upgrading the existing infrastructure. You need to retrofit and upgrade them and bring them up to the global benchmark and standards and the city can be a more competitive platform and city life can improve.

Blueprints for the future
A shift in the decision making process for urban planning is the need of the hour.
Smart cities have been receiving the focus of academia and technology companies long before the topic became a public discourse in India following the government´s announcement to build 100 smart cities. Recently India signed an MoU with the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) on building smart cities, and other countries are also interested in partnering in smart city ventures. It is a business opportunity, and a huge market for investment for many entities, ranging from technology developers to real estate developers. The question we need to ask now is: Do we have a vision, a development framework for these cities such that investments can be channelised and prioritised in a meaningful manner that is conducive to the needs of the city and its citizens, rather than serving the business interest of investors alone?

An enabling environment
An enabling environment within which smart city development can take place is required. The urban develop¡ment framework in India is provided by a number of provisions, acts, and guidelines. Some of the more important ones include the 74th Constitution Amendment of 1991, which empowers Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) to take their own decisions, the recently revised Urban and Regional Development Plans Formulation & Implementation (URDPFI) Guidelines, 2014, and the Town and Country Planning acts of respective States. Within this broader framework, cities continue to shape their present and future by preparing Master Plans (MP), Long-term Perspective Plans, City Development Plans (CDP), etc. However, the plans do not seem to always address the problems that we face in our cities. There is a need to ´re-examine´ the processes through which the plans evolve, the decisions we make for and in our cities. For example, the problem of open defecation in cities is addressed by focussing only on building toilets, which does not address the issue of attitude change, safe containment, transport and treatment-the whole value chain of sanitation.

The investment needs of Indian cities are projected to be Rs 39.2 lakh crore over 20 years with relatively long lock-in period. Thus these investment decisions require careful and dynamic analyses that facilitate choice of strategies that are adaptive and designed to evolve over time, responding to new information, as it becomes available. It is imperative to consider different alternatives and their impacts on various development parameters such as improving access, efficiency, and economy, environmental impacts, financial sustainability, and health impacts, along with addressing the role of regulations and other institutions. For example, to address congestion, more roads are being built, but best practices (such as those adopted in Bogota, Curitiba, etc.), suggest that congestion can be eased with better travel-demand management and public transport while having multiple co-benefits such as lesser investment requirement, carbon footprint and pollution levels. Feasible solutions may not always be the optimal solutions along some dimensions.

A decision support framework
A decision support framework in urban planning which adheres to the principles of good governance, namely, equity, efficiency, participation, transparency, accountability, respon¡siveness, etc., should be considered for large-scale adoption. Such a computation-based framework can pave the way for project identification and prioritisation.

For example, a Geographic Information System (GIS) enabled user interface platform, which lets one observe the issues of the city spatially can help to ascertain the maturity of a city in the development process. Hence, interventions can be made and prioritised, generating alternate scenarios and their co-benefits and constraints based on the city´s given context and baseline. This provides decision makers evidence-based support systems that involve all stakeholders to choose the most suitable option. The platform can further be enhanced and strengthened to continuously analyse data so as to prioritise critical areas of interventions.

Foreign investment is critical and required, but cities need to decide what, where, how and when to invest. It is important to show action happening on the ground to win confidence, but equal impetus needs to be given to cutting-edge research and innovation in urban planning to make investments sustainable. Using technology to achieve a citizen´s needs within a city´s established functional cycle of people-economy-enterprises-culture is challenging, but it will be the most apt form of a smart city in India. The point of departure that will make a difference in an increasingly resource constrained world is how judiciously one plans for a city supported by the enhanced power of technology, a more aware and engaged citizenry and a more competent and capacitated set of people working within an accountable framework. This process will determine the ´smartness´ of a city.

This article has been authored by Sujaya Rathi, Principal Research Scientist and Shrimoyee Bhattacharya, Senior Researcher at the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP), Bangalore. The views expressed in the article are those of CSTEP.

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