Smart cities will bring sustainable urbanization and fix urban imbalances

Increasing urbanization has exacerbated numerous problems in our metro cities today. These include proliferation of slums, air pollution, water & energy shortages, traffic congestion, inadequate capacity for treating waste water and sewage, and erratic disposal of industrial waste.

These challenges are likely to become more pronounced over the years as the pace and scale of India’s urbanization grows in magnitude. Migration to urban India is set to rise exponentially as youths head to cities in search of job opportunities. According to a McKinsey report, India will have 68 cities with populations of more than 1 million, 13 cities with more than 4 million people, and 6 megacities with populations of 10 million or more, at least two of which (Mumbai and Delhi) will be among the five largest cities in the world by 2030. The report says that life for the average city dweller in India would become a lot tougher. Water supply for the average citizen could drop from an average of 105 liters to only 65 liters a day with a large section having no access to potable water at all. India’s cities could leave between 70 to 80 percent of sewage untreated. While private car ownership would increase, shortcomings in the transportation infrastructure have the potential to create urban gridlock. All these problems will only cause greater deterioration in the health of people, and can be linked to global warming and escalation in energy costs. In the face of such looming crisis, pressure is building up for our urban planners, local government policymakers and politicians to come up with sustainable solutions to urban development.

Over the last few years, the concept of smart cities has been gaining ground in India, especially with reference to the seven new cities that are planned to be developed along the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor. These cities will use smart technologies with a total investment of $90 billion over a decade. The Union Budget of 2014 has earmarked 100 new smart cities to meet the demands of growing urbanization.

The concept of smart city is evolving, its essential framework comprise features like optimum use of energy and resources with the help of Smart Grids, energy-efficient green buildings, environment-friendly and efficient multi-modal transport network, low carbon use, clean technology and smart governance. Homes in smart cities will be linked together through the internet to essential utilities like gas, water and electricity via a Smart Grid. With its help utility providers will be able to forecast demands for various services more precisely leading to better management and delivery.

Smart cities will, with the help of super-fast optical fibre networks and digital technology, will virtually talk to us, sharing information so that communities can become superefficient, and people can be linked to each other and to civic facilities in real time. It is through interconnecting buildings, factories, vehicles, power generation plants, lighting, that cities will be “smart”.

Smart city features will offer a refreshing change to the prevalent conditions in cities today where various elements, such as transportation, energy and power systems, water supply and other utilities operate in silos with no connectivity. To make urban life efficient, livable and sustainable, a defining feature of these new cities will be their focus on clean and renewable energy and an integrated transport system that would seamlessly bring together the different modes of mobility — rail, automotive, bicycle and walking — into one convenient, accessible, time efficient, affordable, safe and green system. People living and working in these cities will enjoy a much superior quality of life than what our established cities have to offer. Residents of smart cities will have access to transportation systems that would be efficient, environmentally friendly and be able to move hundreds to thousands of people quickly, comfortably and affordably to their destinations.

As a result, unlike our existing big cities that are bursting at their seams with people living in overcrowded dense spaces and having to bear the brunt of myriad infrastructure challenges and unplanned urban expansion, smart cities can be catalysts for change and usher in new paradigms in urban living.

Investing in smart cities makes good economic and political sense for the government and its planning bodies. Smart cities can help the government meet its objectives of higher economic growth, job creation, infrastructure investment and urbanization. Also, with the bulk of the population getting priced out of affordable real estate within the existing cities, these new cities will shape up as attractive destinations for housing, employment and industrial development.

About P. Sahel

As Vice Chairman of Lotus Greens, Sahel is responsible for giving directions on overall business strategy and key investments decisions of the firm. Being one of the founding members of Lotus Greens, Sahel has been instrumental in formulating various company policies, setting up systems and processes, and building a strong team of professionals. Prior to Lotus Greens, Sahel worked for more than 16 years in some of India’s largest and most respected real estate companies like Jones Lang LaSalle for 13 years as the Managing Director of the Markets & Solution Development and DLF prior to that. The views expressed are personal

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