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Building smart cities have its share of challenges and the way forward to a sustainable future is deft planning and execution
The Varanasi-Kyoto bonding is expected to go beyond the idea of a confluence of heritage and modernity. The signing of the pact on August 30, 2014 between New Delhi and Tokyo to give a facelift to the temple town along the lines of Kyoto, a model smart city that boasts of its rich heritage, is the key to Prime Minster Narendra Modi’s dream of 100-smart-cities for India. And, realising it will directly involve revising national strategic policy and funding model for infrastructure planning and development.
WHAT IS A SMART CITY?
A 'smart city' is an urban region that is highly advanced in terms of overall infrastructure, sustainable real estate, communications and market viability. It must incorporate energy management, water management, transport and traffic, safety and security and solid waste management. At the same time, it must have application domains – health care, education, inclusion, participatory governance and community services.
IBM first floated the idea of 'smarter cities' in 2008 as part of its Smarter Planet initiative, which provided facilities like hardware, middleware, software and service solutions for city governments and agencies. By 2009, countries such as South Korea, UAE and China began to invest heavily into such research and formation. Today, Vienna, Aarhus, Amsterdam, Cairo, Lyon, Málaga, Malta, the Songdo International Business District near Seoul and Verona are excellent examples of progressive smart cities.
THE INDIAN CHAPTER
India has conventional cities where the water, gas, electricity, transportation, emergency services, buildings and public service systems operate independently. But in case of smart cities, the challenge is to build a truly efficient network where the performance of each system is optimised and managed in an integrated manner to better prioritise spending and maximise value. Sustainable solutions will reduce the environmental consequences of urban life to make the city more efficient and liveable. This is critical because cities are the largest contributors of carbon emissions. The roads, public spaces and buildings emit the bulk of a city’s emissions. Efficient, cleaner and sustainable operations can curb a city’s environmental footprint.
Besides, smart cities need short-term solutions and disaster management capacity. These will include flood preparedness, preventing blackouts, traffic de-congestion, crowd control and curbing logistical difficulties that accompany fast-paced urbanisation.
The Indian cities with on-going or proposed smart city projects, include Kochi, Ahmedabad, Aurangabad, Manesar, Khushkhera, Krishnapatnam, Ponneri and Tumkur. Many of these cities will include special investment regions or special economic zones with modified regulations and tax structures to make it attractive for foreign investment.
In an attempt to address the challenges ahead of building smart cities, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) organised an interactive session with American Chamber of Commerce in India, where experts focused on the key areas of the provision and management of basic infrastructure, the need for meaningful environment-friendly targets, ensuring capacity building for communities, service providers and governing bodies, and efficient and effective governance.
The challenges are multi-pronged and therefore, require careful planning and execution. Apart from the need to build basic infrastructure, including roads, housing, civic services such as power and water supply, the need to have sustainable solutions to address issues relating to air pollution, congestion, and segregation of municipal waste, industrial and domestic effluents, is extremely important for these cities to remain relevant with India’s growing needs.
“For example, water demand in India will reach a whopping 1,500 bcm by 2030, while overexploitation of groundwater is resulting in deterioration in both surface and groundwater quality. Adding to the woes is industrial waste polluting rivers across the country. Therefore, maintaining the quality and quantity of water supplied has to be addressed,” says Mili Majumdar, Director, Sustainable Habitat Division, TERI.
Similarly, the discussion highlighted how an increase in vehicular traffic and the rise in the use of appliances and heavy machinery in the residential and commercial sectors will contribute to growing energy needs and air pollution. “Traffic congestion and vehicular pollution will emerge as major public health challenge. The transport sector’s growing energy needs will also increase India’s oil imports and GHG emissions and, therefore, alternative energy needs that are less polluting will have to be adopted,” Majumdar adds.
THE BUILDING BLOCKS
TERI proposes energy conservation and use of renewable energy as the key drivers to develop smart cities. Under this, developing city selection criteria on the basis of the demographics, growth, economic and environmental parameters is also very crucial. “There is a need to prioritise sustainability and smartness criteria for each city in the roadmap, develop framework to seek funding, facilitate technological assessment and implementation and, most importantly, implement pilot projects as a preparation to monitor the smart city framework,” Majumdar says.
Experts at the session advocated the use of smart energy systems to manage power supply and demand, and proposed to introduce smart intervention strategies for supervision when it comes to conventional energy. They also stressed on the need to be more dependent on renewable energy sources and green buildings to build smarter and sustainable neighbourhoods.