Half of the global population now lives in cities. World's urban population is estimated to be doubled by 2050. Cities around the globe are already under pressure of rapid urbanization as 1.4 million people migrate to cities each week in search of employment, for better living and for education. Indian cities are also expanding in area and becoming more crowded. Urbanization in India has gathered pace and planners are foreseeing rise in urban population to 40% by 2021 which is 31% as per 2011 Census. Problems have already started surfacing as urban infrastructure is lagging way behind actual needs. Public transport services are chaotic and most new cities are still struggling to set up a working public transport. Consequently, there is immediate need of effective infrastructure and transport systems. It is precisely the reason that India is discussing smart cities today.
World Bank and World Resources Institute (WRI) also believe that smart cities and urban mobility are keys to a sustainable future.
Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi announced last year to make 100 smart cities in India. He said, "Cities in the past were built on riverbanks. They are now built along highways. But in the future, they will be built based on availability of optical fiber networks and next-generation infrastructure." He also announced an investment of $1.2 billion in smart cities with more funding coming from private sectors and abroad. According to recent news reports, Union Urban Development Secretary, Shankar Aggarwal said that the framework for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambitious project of developing 100 smart cities would be finalized soon.
The urban planning experts are of the view to increase mass, rapid public transportation to 60% of all traffic. Currently, public modes account for only 22% of urban transport. "Transport planning must focus on moving people and not vehicles," once said by public transport lobbyist Ashok Datar, criticizing projects like the 14-km Eastern Freeway in Mumbai which he says serves only private cars exiting the city.
On the need for existing cities to transform to smart cities, Architect and Urban Planner Amarjeet Verma said, "75% of infrastructure that will be there in 2050 does not exist today, so huge need and consequently numerous opportunities to invest in future infrastructure lie ahead. We have to build a transport that brings cities as far as 500 km closer to around 2 hours. This would not only reduce pressures on cities but also prevent a person living in one city from migrating to other city."
In the opinion of Delhi's young Environmental Lawyer Birjesh Singh, "The transport needs to be smart, safe and green. It must integrate vehicle subsystems with its surroundings, must enable reduction of the number of traffic accidents as well as reduction of emissions and fuel consumption. In the coming times, the demands on safety will increase for both on-board and around vehicles. More stringent emission legislation will create the need for new innovative technologies to achieve the standards for low CO2, NOx and SO2 emissions."
In a recently concluded "Smart Transportation Infra Summit 2015" organized by the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI), Delhi Government's Minister, Gopal Rai said, "We are working on providing an alternative to auto rickshaws, which is not only eco-friendly but also likely to be cheaper to avoid burning a hole in people's pockets. The idea is being considered to address the problem of last mile connectivity in Delhi." He also said that despite metro being a saviour and efforts being made to make public bus transport system smooth, the major hurdle is the lack of last mile connectivity which forces Delhi residents to ply their private vehicles on road. Delhi Government is actively considering a proposal of introducing 'common mobility card' which will work in all modes of public transport.
But major hindrance to smart cities is lack of consensus on the issue. We have to talk of entirety and not in isolation. We need high-tech digital communication capabilities for better performance and well being that will reduce costs and resource consumption, and we also need a system to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens. In addition to building up good basic infrastructure, the success of a smart city will depend on the urban design and transportation systems.