The dawn of 100 smart cities: an Indian experiment

July 23, 2014 / By  

Four years ago, for the first time in the history of humanity, the majority of the world’s population became city dwellers. While only two in every 10 people lived in urban areas 100 years ago, by 2010 that figure reached 5 in every 10, or 50% [United Nations (UN), 2010]. As regards India, many people have long held the nostalgic idea that it is a country of villagers, but, in fact, more than 370 million people (31% of the population [Census of India, 2011]) now live in cities. This increasing urban population is creating challenges in providing a better quality of life, particularly in the mega-cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Pune, and Kolkata that are at the receiving end of migration. Poor water and electricity supply, lack of social infrastructure, primitive sanitation, and proliferation of slums owing to a lack of affordable housing are, sadly, the most easily identifiable problems of many Indian cities. Despite this, we see a continuation of migration because of the economic opportunities the cities continue to offer.

The newly elected Union Government of India has taken up this situation as a priority and is planning to build 100 smart cities across the country and INR 76 billion (about USD 1.3 billion) has been allocated in the 2014-2015 General Budget as seed money for the project. To begin with, these cities are likely to be developed as feeder towns to larger cities, with the objective of eventually generating enough economic activity to be self-sufficient. Consequently, to facilitate funding, the government has proposed a reduction in the size of projects eligible for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from 50,000 sqm to 20,000 sqm and a halving of the minimum investment limit for FDI to USD 5 million. In addition, the government has earmarked large funds for rural and urban housing in the affordable sector.

Smart cities are identified as cities that promote efficient usage of their resources including physical, social, intellectual, and environmental infrastructure, in a manner that fosters sustainable economic development and high quality of life (Figure 1). These smart cities are also planned to be vibrant hubs for research and progress. Examples that already exist are Curitiba in Brazil, with its impressive transport system and meticulous city planning approach, and Osaka in Japan which has designated a special economic zone for development of environmental and energy industries. In India the master planning of three new smart cities, Ponneri, Krishnapatnam and Tumkur, is likely to be completed soon.

Figure 1: Concept of Smart City

Source: Centre of Regional Science, Vienna University of Technology, 2007

With the intention of spotting the challenges early, the Indian Government’s initiative to develop smart cities is a welcome step and taking a cue from the world scene, pioneering techniques in e-governance, energy conservation, optimal housing density, etc., could be the next game changer. While this initiative will have clear and tangible benefits in terms of housing, infrastructure, living conditions and improved economic opportunities, it will also lead to nation-building and be another step along the road to India becoming a developed country.

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