Smart Cities - What they are, How Realistic are they, and what can be done

What are Smart Cities and How They Have the Potential to Revolutionize Urban Living

We often hear the term Smart Cities mentioned in the media. We also come across excited business leaders and politicians as well as urban planners and members of think tanks breathlessly talk about how Smart Cities would transform the way we live in the future. Even in our conversations with peers and friends, the term Smart Cities is bandied about. So, what exactly are Smart Cities and how are going to impact us in the future?

To start with, a Smart City is an Metropolitan or Urban region that uses cutting edge technologies such as AI (Artificial Intelligence), Big Data, IoT (Internet of Things), and networked 4G and 5G technologies to connect the urban systems and the homes as well as offices and other spaces to actualize a real time and technology driven governance.

In other words, Smart Cities are place where technology is used to drive better urban administration and governance. imagine if your home is connected to the Smart Grid and where everything from your garbage collection to the water supply as well as power and internet are all linked together and where you get real time updates about each of them in terms of how and what is happening daily.

How Smart Cities Enhance the Everyday Life of Residents

How convenient would your life be if in addition to the above, you know in advance which roads are congested and which parking lots are vacant as well as how the weather would be even before you leave home for work? In other words, Smart Cities enable such conveniences since everything is connected and hence, you get real time updates about virtually anything that impacts your everyday life.

As mentioned earlier, garbage collection is automated, water supply is measured using Smart Meters, traffic updates are delivered by mobile apps, Smart Parking systems allow you to reserve your parking lots in advance, and real time weather and traffic updates let you know the optimal route you should take to reach your workplace.

Indeed, who wouldn’t want to live in such a place where everything is taken care of and seamless connectivity ensures that you are spared of the hassles of everyday living that residents of other metros have to put up with.

Smart Cities - The Hype vs. Realities

Having said that, one must also speculate on how much of this is possible in reality given the conditions and the infrastructure in many cities worldwide. Indeed, we are not talking about India alone where though the government encouraging Smart Cities, the realities are such that such a concept would take a long time before it can fructify. Instead, apart from San Francisco and Singapore and some European cities, the rest of the major metros worldwide are simply not yet ready to take off to embrace the Smart Cities concept.

The reasons for this range from lack of adequate virtual and physical infrastructure as well as the mindboggling realities of transitioning the existing systems into connected ones. For instance, Smart Cities need real time and consistent connectivity which is failsafe and foolproof against natural and manmade disasters. Indeed, any Smart City must necessarily have 4G networks as well as a Smart Grid that encompasses water supply, garbage collection, road maintenance, traffic and law enforcement, piped gas, automated and digitally enabled parking, and the very real aspect of disaster and recovery management.

To actualize all of this, massive investments are needed in both setting up the infrastructure and in training the various administrators and civic officials as well as to bring people online. Further, Smart Cities need to be planned and hence, all those urban regions that have historical legacy systems need to be transitioned on a humungous scale. Thus, one needs to be realistic about the hype around Smart Cities.

What Can be Done to Make Smart Cities a Reality

However, it is also the case that with the right planning and flawless execution, Smart Cities can become a reality down the line. For this to happen, the Federal and the State Governments must invest in capacity building and this is where corporates and businesses gain by pumping in massive investments in return for stakes in the to be built projects. This is a win-win situation where PPP or Public Private Partnership can yield the desired results.

In addition, multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank can pitch to invest and fund the initiatives. More importantly, Crowdfunding can help the various stakeholders in finding suitable investments.

Indeed, this is already being done in the proposed Smart City of Amravati in Andhra Pradesh where the government is experimenting with innovative initiatives such as land pooling and Crowdsourcing.

Of course, the fact that for Smart Cities to become a reality, the politicians, and the social activists need to work together taking each other’s concerns into account. Moreover, the top leaders must Walk the Talk and not resort to slogans and catchy sound bites without actual movement on the ground.


Lastly, while there is much hype around Smart Cities, the realities are daunting as well. however, with increased migration to urban areas and with creaking infrastructure, there is no choice but to improve urban governance and hence, one must embrace Smart Cities wholeheartedly if we are to continue living in cities.

To conclude, the 21st Century is all about transitioning into a sustainable mode of living and Smart Cities complement the objective of such imperatives and one can go as far as to say, it is now or never.

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