The Indian government’s announcement of creating 100 smart cities has created a lot of excitement even as many questions still linger on. The most prominent one being what qualifies a city as smart? Part of being “smart” is utilizing information and communications technology (ICT) and the Internet to address urban challenges.
The number of urban residents is growing every year and more than 60 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050. Today’s cities face a variety of challenges, including job creation, economic growth, environmental sustainability, and social resilience. These issues, and others, can be mitigated through the adoption of scalable solutions that take advantage of information and communications technology (ICT) to increase efficiencies, reduce costs, and enhance quality of life.
Cities that take this approach are commonly referred to as Smart Cities, or Smart+Connected Communities (S+CC.) While there may be many dimensions to consider when defining a smart city, at a simple level, it refers to a meticulously planned city that relies on IT as an enabler to solve many of its problems - from the use of sensors to smart grids and data analytics that allow city infrastructure and services to meet city problems and citizen demands efficiently and reliably.
Smart is real
What was once a visionary notion is now the new normal – using Information and Communications technology (ICT) which is as essential as the three utilities: water, telecommunication and electricity, urban planners in India like elsewhere in the world are using technology to revitalize an existing city or designing a green field city.
Take the case of Jaipur in India. The Jaipur Development Authority (JDA) is collaborating with Cisco to develop smart city infrastructures that will improve the efficiency and quality of services to residents in Jaipur. JDA will set up the digital infrastructure to offer citizens amenities such as connected transport, wireless broadband, security services, traffic management, safety. Another example is that of the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor where Cisco is working with the DMIC to prepare an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) master plan for four smart cities proposed under the project.
The $90 billion flagship public sector infrastructure project runs through 24 cities and across6 states in India. The key focus of the project is to make use of next level technology and infrastructure to create a global financial and Industrial Hub. Cisco is preparing plans for 4 regions namely Shendra Industrial Park in Maharashtra, Dholera Special Investment Region in Gujarat, Manesar Bawal Investment Region in Haryana and Khushkhera Bhiwadi Neemrana Investment Region in Rajasthan. The cities would have self sustainable habitats, equipped with optimized energy supply and efficient public transport system and will use methods of optimum pollution control and waste recycling management.
Global examples of smart cities are many. Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital, has been juggling two tags consistently; it is as much as a smart city as it is a green city. The city has been reinventing itself with the most advanced network infrastructure linked to the Internet which, among other things, allows connecting applications to a citywide network platform, and empowering a slew of urban services to be delivered for stronger social, environmental and economic outcomes in communities. Some cities in Finland where services and new businesses have been given a Midas touch through intelligent networks are another case in point. These have transformed places like Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Oulu, Tampere, and Turku into smart cities . Amsterdam in Europe was the first to be connected to the Internet and leveraged the immense potential that extending fiber-optic connectivity to its residents and businesses brought along.
Smart is the future
In the end, when we consider the possibility those more than 50 billion things will be connected to the Internet by 2020, app-centric infrastructure, sensors and mobile devices are going to be the new normal for almost every city in the world. Translated in economic terms, connecting the unconnected can be as much some $19 trillion, or $4.6 trillion for the public sector, two-thirds of which can be realized by smart cities.
As experts have accurately noted, people who live in cities are economic performers who are seeking to take advantage of technologies to further their personal and collective opportunities. If cities developers can control the inhibitors around energy consumption, waste and congestion, then citizens get what they live for. As cities become the defining units of human habitation, how smartly we build, manage and operate cities will be the single biggest determinant of citizens future.