Evolution of Smart Cities

Cities are a product of interactive life forms; they have multi-pronged dimensions involving people and other life forms, with dynamic interactions. Due to such dynamics and the complexity of ever-changing interactions, smart cities cannot be bound by anyone’s definition. Also, the conditions, requirements and situations in every city would be different, based on its socio-economic culture, living conditions, and the complexities of its inhabitants and their inter-dependencies.
Prabhat Khare, Automotive, Engineering & Energy Consultant

The Smart City Concept
Since there is no universally acceptable definition of “smart cities”, they have labeled differently in different countries, depending upon their technological advancement, social infrastructure, and level of acceptance by its residents. Alternative names include Green Cities, Digital Cities, Sustainable Cities, Future Cities, etc.

In simple terms, a Smart City is understood to be “smart” by its technological advancements with the intention to provide a better quality of social life for its occupants, using the latest systems and technologies. Occasionally, it is defined as a city with a smart economy, smart transport, smart energy, and a smart communication network.

Some of Major Key Pointers for the Present-Day Smart City Concept
Smart Education System Extensive use of Bots/ Cobots Advanced Cyber Security
Virtual Companies & Business (wherever possible) Driverless Transport with CAEVs High Level of Human - Machine Interface
Smart Energy Grids Using Green Energies Accident & Regulation Violation Monitoring Smart & Timely  Health Services & Support
Social & Political   Stability & Freedom M2M, V2X, R2X, P2X & lX2X Connectivity & Communications4 Proper & Effective System for Disaster Management
Smart Mobility Network (CAEVs, Smart Roads, Parking, Signaling, Registration, Tracking etc) Highest Level of Recycling with Disposal (only If needed & Done Properly) – Circular Economy with Sustainability Smart Facility Management (Water, Energy, Waste, Fire Safety, Human Safety, Air Quality)
IoT/ IIoT with Artificial Intelligence & Super Automation Providing Better Jobs Opportunities & Competitiveness; Well Controlled Social Behavior for Good Social Life for a Well-Rounded and Prosperous Life to Enjoy the Opportunities In a Smart City and the Community at Large.
High Level of Legal Regulation Enforcement with Smart & Virtual Tax System Better Infrastructure (Housing, Transportation, Communications, Networking etc)
Higher the level of technological integration in the city for improving the lives of its residents and their welfare and maintaining its environment – more advanced would be the level of a Smart City. And every new technological development would add a new level of advancement to the city.

Present Day Smart Cities
Smart urbanization is an increasingly common way for cities to innovate in the 21st century. Smart technologies related to ICT are frequently promoted as universal, rational, and as apolitical solutions to create a Smart City without focusing on all the dimensions of Smart Cities.

However, any application of ICT can only address issues of resource efficiency, surveillance, and security, while social factors like citizenship and participation, policymaking, behavioral change, and social cohesion, would need a different level of soft and long-term smart systems. A society can still be called smart if by using older technologies it is able to bring continual improvements in the life of its people.

Despite all these complexities, the Smart City can simply be defined as a geographical area that can effectively manage its resources (natural, human, equipment, buildings, and infrastructure) using green energies to provide comfort to its residents, using the latest technologies while effectively recycling its waste, is self-sustaining, and can maintain harmony with the environment. Such a broad definition will require many of the following technical and non-technical ideas to merge:

M2M (Machine-To-Machine), V2X (Vehicle-To-Everything), R2X (Road-To-Everything), P2X (Parking-To-Everything) & lastly X2X (Everything-To-Everything) Connectivity & Communications.

Smart Cities of the Future
The Smart Cities of the future would develop as a result of merging of many new generation technologies and solutions across all sectors of society, continually evolving, altering with time, creating new goals and challenges. The cities and societies will remain smart as long the new challenges are met and the goals are achieved by the new technologies.

Future Smart Cities: Merging of Various Ideas
Physical Social Economic Governing
Digital Inclusive & Integrated Business-Friendly Efficient
Eco-Friendly Safe & Secure Competitive Law Abiding
Green Educated & Healthy Entrepreneurial Managed
Resilient Intelligent & Participative Innovative & Productive Productive
Sustainable Good Amenities (Air, Water,
Food, Sanitation, Medical)
Productive & Resilient Well-Run, Well-Led
There are many ways of integrating new-age technologies with that of the city’s existing system, forming matrixes for better undersetting their interdependencies. Such matrixes once made will certainly help understand the intricate mesh of various socio-technical factors and associated challenges for making things move in actual execution.

Development & Making of Smart Cities
We can only create Smart Cities when we identify their current and future requirements as well as the technologies and skills needed for their architecture. For execution, the well-known PDCA (Plan, Do Check, and Action) Deming cycle along with DSTA (Draw-See-Think-Arrange) cycle must be used to retain the focus on the goal. While the PDCA approach is well known and very well understood, let us try to understand the DSTA cycle, which is a critical prerequisite to start planning a Smart City.

Draw - Assess the Present Situation for Internal SWOT: While initiating the work on a Smart City, a clear vision of this ideal city of the future needs to be created by visualizing the future as well as an update from other better cities across the globe, yet keeping in mind the local architecture, heritage, as well as the local historical, cultural and religious values.

See - Recognize the Reality: Once the ideal Smart City of the future has been visualized with achievable parameters, analyze the current situation using the following methods:
  1. Assess the current situation of the city through the Reality Principle of “Going to the actual place”, “Knowing the actual situation” and “Being realistic” for the changes planned or proposed.
  2. Note down the actual situation and do a gap analysis of the present situation w.r.t. visualized changes.
  3. Evaluate the situation of the future if things are left as they are now.
  4. Do a SWOT analysis as identified through comparison with competitors.

Think - Consider What Needs to Be Done: Once the level of the gap between the ideal Smart City and the existing city is clear, the ideas to develop it must be collected from all the stakeholders of the city and recorded. Once done, they must be evaluated and assigned the possible completion time frames, depending upon various complexities and funds requirements, which may vary from a few months to a few years. If parameters for the city can be expressed numerically, then they must be specified.

What To Focus On? Where To Focus? What To Change? What To Solve? What To Improve?
Once these questions are answered, themes must be prioritized to work upon following the proven PDCA cycle. The above steps can be summarized as below:

Based on the gap analysis of the present situation and the ideal city as visualized, steps should be drawn to achieve the improvement. These steps must be specified from the following well known ‘5W’ principle:

Smart Cities in India
India hosts 16% of the world’s population with only 2.45% of the global surface area and 4% of the water resources; it is expected to surpass China (currently the most populous country) in the next few years. However, it is worth mentioning that in the last few decades the shift has been increasing in urban population and over the years the rural population has been decreasing.

With such a dramatic shift from a rural area to an urban area in India, the planned and systematic growth of cities will become very critical as cities are the only engines of growth for the economy of a nation.

Nearly 31% of India’s current population lives in urban areas and contributes 63% of India’s GDP (Census 2011). With increasing urbanization, urban areas are expected to house more than 40% of India’s population and contribute 75% of India’s GDP by 2050. This requires comprehensive development of physical, institutional, social, and economic infrastructure. The development of Smart Cities is a timely step in that direction. However, its concept has a very different connotation in India with different levels of programs, depending upon a particular city’s challenges.

India’s Smart City Mission (SCM)
An ambitious urban development program was launched in India by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi in 2015, in which 110 cities undertook a path-breaking journey to transform themselves into Indian Smart Cities to provide better and improved core infrastructure and services, a clean environment, and a better quality of life to the citizens. In the last six years, the Mission has grown from strength to strength, implementing over 5,100 projects worth around Rs. 2,05,000 crores, with positive impacts on the lives of close to 100 million citizens.

The SCM of India tries to address the problems that urban India faces today: water scarcity, poor air quality, poor sanitation, chaotic transportation system, increasing wealth inequality, inequitable distribution, and difficulty in accessing public services by focusing on constructing capital intensive privatized infrastructure projects and enormous pressures from constant rural to urban migration. These factors are putting stress on our cities which are getting over-stressed due to the large scale population migration from rural areas.

Core Principles of SCM
  • Citizens at the Core: Citizens are involved in every stage of smart city development.
  • More from Less: Smart Cities strive to create a stronger impact and outcome from use of fewer resources like energy, finance and others.
  • Cooperative and Competitive Federalism: Cooperative collaboration and healthy competition between states and cities.
  • Convergence: Smart Cities are focused on the creation of an integrated infrastructure and services, promotion of circular economy, and sustainable habitats through convergence of financial resources and programs.
  • Technology as a Means and not the Goal: Technology enables and provides speed and scale but is not the end-result of a smart city development.
  • Inclusiveness: Cities are for all people irrespective of age, gender, background, and ability, and hence they have to be inclusive in order to be ‘smart’.

Smart Solutions Under SCM
Under the SCM, the current objective is to promote cities that provide core infrastructure and provide a decent quality of life to the citizens, a clean and sustainable environment with ‘smart’ solutions to meet their requirements. The focus is on sustainable and inclusive development and the idea is to look at compact areas, create a replicable model for other aspiring cities. SCM is a bold, new initiative and is meant to set examples that can be replicated, catalyzing the creation of similar cities in various regions and parts of the country.

These minimum definitional boundaries set by GoI, are also known as a wish list of infrastructure and services as well as the aspiration levels of its residents for improving the city planning and resultant enhanced livability. The achievable targets must be set for short-term, mid-term and the long-term and everyone in these cities must work towards achieving the same.

Challenges for India
  • Leadership & Vision with the ability to act decisively.
  • Encourage and promote the spirit of competitive and cooperative federalism - a new concept in Indian bureaucracy.
  • Understanding the concepts of retrofitting, redevelopment, and greenfield development by the policymakers, implementers, and other stakeholders.
  • Major investment in time and resources during the planning phase. This approach will be different from the conventional DPR-driven approach in Indian bureaucracy.
  • SCM requires tech-savvy people who actively participate in governance and reforms utilizing the SPV through use of ICT, especially mobile- based tools.
  • Complexity and scale of Smart City projects: Also, it must be understood that the 110 Smart Cities proposed will execute 5,151 projects worth Rs. 2,05,018 crores in 5 years. Financial innovation has been built into the capital investment plans. The distribution of funding envisaged from different sources is approximate as shown in the charts below. As of November 2020, almost 90% of all the approved SCM projects had been tendered, and around 70% completed or under advanced stages of implementation.
Other Issues
  1. Lack of Centre-State Co-ordination: There is a need for proper regulation when it comes to planning for the development of Smart Cities - both horizontal and vertical.
  2. No Master Plan: Most cities in India do not have a master plan and development plan in place. However, for a Smart City development, a master plan will need to be made, computerized, and made accessible to the city planners.
  3. No Timeline: Any plan needs a time limit and must be completed in that time frame. The entire Smart City plan must be executed in a set time frame as all the clearances do not come on time. Such bureaucratic approvals should be made online and on time, preferably through a single regulatory body to monitor the requisite approvals for the project.
  4. Non-Availability of Facilities & Skill: This is a huge problem in our country as it is an area which has not been focused upon. Large-scale programs and projects require trained and skilled manpower. Knowing this, the Government is focusing on the Skill India momentum to develop people with different skill sets.
  5. Corruption: Corruption in India has always been a reason for non-execution or ineffective execution of most big projects in the country.

Developing Sustainable Cities & Sustainable Villages
While the Government is making the identified 110 cities “smart” by upgrading their infrastructure; this alone, in my view, would never convert them to the ideal smart cities because what our country needs are “Sustainable Cities” and “Sustainable Villages” rather than “Smart Cities” as being visualized by the Western countries.

We must first focus on our local problems like employment, corruption, basic educational needs, food, etc. to make the people residing in these cities aware of their SMARTness, as only then can they make the cities Self Sustaining, Self-Improvising and Smart, while improving their lifestyles.

Also, with time any city understood to be ‘smart’ today, will need to keep on upgrading to the next level of smartness. Finally, only a ‘smart society’ that adopts and utilizes technologies to enhance living standards and improves the key areas like transport, health, hygiene, water, and sanitation, can create and sustain a Smart City.

Many of the old settlements like the Indus Valley and Machu Pichu with their advanced urban culture, city planning systems which included excellent water flow and sanitation systems with covered drains along the streets, impressive dockyards, granaries, warehouses, brick platforms, and walls that protected cities from floods and attackers, could be deemed Smart Cities of their times.

Though the concept of Smart Cities is new in India, and yet to be grasped by the people at large, however, with time, it will begin to be understood in totality with the hard fact that it is not the infrastructure but the residents that would make cities smart. We cannot and should not copy Western cities, considering the socio-political and the socio-economic aspects of our country.

Prabhat Khare
BE (Electrical), IIT Roorkee (Gold Medalist), Senior Industry Veteran of Tata Motors, Honda Cars & Ashok Leyland, Life Member of National Safety Council, BEE Certified Energy Manager, Lead Assessor for ISO 9K, 14K, 45K & 50K

  • Smart Cities of Today and Tomorrow - Better Technology, Infrastructure and Security” by Joseph N Pelton & Indu B Singh
  • Smart Cities edited by Zaigham Mahmood
  • Inside Smart Cities-Place, Politics and Urban Innovation edited by Andrew Karvonen, Federico Cugurullo & Federico Caprotti
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