"Smart city is a process...not an outcome"

Tue, 2015-10-20 18:43 -- Surekha Yadav

Stephen Yarwood

Passionate about cities, innovation and technology, Stephen Yarwood, Urban Futurist, Australia Public Policy, founder of City2050 shares his experience with Smart Cities Council India on developing Adelaide as an innovative world destination and the likely opportunities and challenges India may face in its quest towards ‘smart cities’.

As an urban planner and a government official, some of Yarwood's key achievements are - a world-class, citywide Wi-Fi network; CISCO smart cities agreement and 'Lighthouse City' global recognition; redevelopment of the city's primary retail and public spaces; many environmental initiatives including an ambitious carbon neutral action plan; an award-winning integrated transport vision, including hosting 'VeloCity Global'.

Adelaide has been globally recognised as an innovative destination. Tell us about the challenges and constraints you faced while doing the project.

Understanding that cities are complex, you have to manage a range of stakeholders and complex issues. Being able to articulate that in a single vision engaging people is the biggest challenge.  A city is not about city leaders, urban planners, architects or government; it is about the people who live in the city, who use the city. The users create their own lives and the comfort zones of their living; they are always going to be resistant to changing their behaviour patterns.

Good planning and good urban management mean nothing unless you can get people to do things differently. So the biggest challenge was how to engage community in changing the character of the city.

How would you define a smart city?

A 'smart city' is not an outcome, it's a process. It is a city that has an understanding of where it wants to be, where it is going, and how it is going to get there. A smart city is a journey from today to tomorrow, where tomorrow never comes. It's a constant process. A smart city is a city that engages in thinking about where it wants to go and then formulates a conscious action plan to achieve that process. A smart city has good infrastructure, lively streets, healthy and happy community, employment, green energy infrastructure.

Where does your experience fit in the Indian context?

I would start with acknowledging and managing people’s expectations that these issues are not going to be solved; it is actually going to be an incremental process. One needs to put time as a constraint in solving problems so that people who are working and solving these problems are accountable to the people who are checking that those things are actually happening.

Further, I am excited about the opportunity that India has to leapfrog the western world in terms of digital technology. Digital literacy in this country has huge potential to actually change the fundamental operating system of cities.

Can you quote some examples from Adelaide that can be replicated in the Indian scenario?

Adelaide is clearly recognised in terms of embracing place-making, which is actually physical, tangible realisation of transformation. It's a process of experimenting on the streets; it's the people who want change. Thinking what could work, what not, before spending the money - that's real planning.

Take the example of a metro station where you get difficulty getting a auto for the last mile connectivity to your destination and converting the metro station into a community focus with places where people can eat, enjoy space, make it a meeting point, etc.

How important will be the role of technology in making smart cities?

The role of technology is to create intelligent cities. Smart cities are self-aware, aspirational; they set a goal and know where they want to go. Intelligent cities are technology-driven and artificially intelligent. Intelligent cities would be about intelligent devices knowing much more about our lives and connecting us through that.

What should India do to get its smart cities’ agenda translated into action?

Unless we start talking, we won’t be able to start the process. So talking about what you are going to achieve within a time period is good. For the Indian scenario, identifying key issues should be priority, things that really matter for its citizens like water supply, sewerage system and sanitation. One important part of project planning is implementation, and implementing easily, cheaply and efficiently is the challenge.

Can we have smart cities that are sustainable and liveable?

Sustainability actually needs to provide solutions. It needs to help people to do things better. People need to understand that if one rides a bicycle, the air will be cleaner and they would be healthier, live longer and be more active. Sustainability needs to add to liveability rather than undermining liveability.

What is City2050?

City2050 is a consultancy specialising in long-term strategic plans that recognise the social, environmental, economic and technological issues that are redefining the operating system of cities. Consulting on contemporary governance, strategy and urban services, City2050 is valuable to governments, cities, boardrooms and people who understand that the future looks nothing like the past. It is for people that aspire to be more prepared, connected and empowered.

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