The need for Smart Cities becomes apparent from the development dilemma – the faster the nation’s development, the greater is the strain on its limited resources, including higher demand for energy that intensifies the impact on climate change issues. As curbing development is never an option, and urbanization is an inevitable process with India striving to enter the league of developed nations, there is a call for us to move towards methods and solutions that can lead ensure sustainable ways of development. The recent report by India’s NITI Aayog “Strategy for New India @ 75” deliberates four paradigms to leverage Smart Cities Mission of the country.
Scaling area-based development: There is a need to measure the impact of current area-based development projects on the ease of living, economic growth, investments, job creation and citizens’ participation. The central government can consider transferring the lessons learnt from such area-based development projects to other cities. States should also be encouraged to launch their own state-level missions for other cities.
Mobility: An integrated institutional architecture for planning and coordinating the regulation of mobility such as a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority is needed. Spatial plans should provide for integrating land-use and transport planning to support more mixed-use development for enhancing economic activity, reducing commuting time and improving environmental quality. There is a need for focused attention to public transport, including existing intermediate and para-transit services, especially in smaller cities. A pooled green transport fund to support such investments is recommended. A high-level inter-ministerial electric vehicle (EV) mission is necessary for proper coordination on the EV agenda.
Achieving desired service delivery levels: Funds for the provisioning of basic services and infrastructure are accessed from complementary missions, such as the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), and Housing for All (HFA). There is a need for a framework that mandates measurable outputs and outcomes for all capital investments in infrastructure and services in cities. These outputs and outcomes should be predefined and measured at quarterly intervals. The present liveability assessment underway will provide the baseline for measurement on 73 indicators.
Digital transformation roadmap: Conventionally, cities have been using information technology and communication (ICT) in three ways: (1) use a single application to address burning problems, say, waste collection, and then add more applications as per the needs and priorities of the city; (2) build infrastructure and add services, and (3) experiment with a number of applications without having a long-term or definitive vision in place.
The conventional ways ignore the value hidden in human interactions – among citizens, with the city’s infrastructure (e.g. roads, bridges, parks) and the environment. These interactions contain data and information and digital technology has the potential to recognize and capture the hidden value in their interactions.
To harness internet connectivity and its various applications in governance and service delivery, cities need to put in place a digital transformation roadmap across both hard infrastructure and software applications. A digital transformation roadmap would recognize and capture these interactions and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts once the information that flows in the “systems of systems” is captured.
Additionally, the digital transformation roadmap would also build on the considerable work done in cities on geographic information systems (GIS) and apply these for geo-locating, mapping and publishing public assets in the city such as parks, playgrounds, public toilets, bus stops, streetlights, manholes, water and sewerage lines, stormwater drains, power lines, etc., and linking these to grievance redressal, participatory budgeting, transparent works management, and contractor payments.
Municipal acts need to provide for a digital transformation roadmap for ULBs as a mandatory policy document, like spatial plans. This will also help build data observatories for multiple uses, including citizen engagement.
Inclusive development: Cities must ensure that the urban poor and slum dwellers including recent migrants can avail of city services and subsidies and are financially included through the Jan Dhan Yojana. A dedicated benchmark could be considered to measure if benefits reach the targeted poor. Cities should dedicate a single-window facility for the urban poor to access basic services such as water supply, drainage and sewerage, and affordable housing in the form of the dormitory and rental housing. Urban poor communities and slums, benefitted by area-based development (ABD) or pan-city proposal (PCP) solutions, should be mapped in conjunction with improvements in parameters such as access to public assets and reducing service deficit including in the areas of education and health.