Singaporeans don't use the word smart, they talk about livable cities: NIUA Director

 Manu Kaushik        Last Updated: February 24, 2015  | 16:42 IST
Singaporeans talk about livable cities: NIUA Director
Lavasa is a gated township, and largely for the elite. (Photo: Rachit Goswami)

Jagan Shah, director, National Institute of Urban Affairs
Jagan Shah, director, National Institute of Urban Affairs
In an interview with Manu Kaushik, Jagan Shah, Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs, discusses the progress and benefits of building smart cities in India. Excerpts:

Q. What are your views on the government's ambitious 100 smart cities programme?

A. It is a game-changing project that envisages the enhancement of existing cities. When we say development, it does not mean development from a scratch. It means development of satellite towns with an eye on the fact that it will lead to the improvement of existing cities. It will also provide base for economic growth. It is not about flashy, snazzy-looking cities which look like something out of movies. It is about making our cities better. We need to leapfrog towards bringing our cities to a level where they deliver a quality of life that people are demanding, youth are expecting and, one, which is everybody's right. That quality of life has been denied over many decades. We have treated cities as necessary evils. We have treated our cities as generators of industrial development and pollution. The government is now abandoning any such misgivings about cities.

Q. What are the challenges for building these new smart cities?

A. Acquisition of land is not easy, as you will notice for the new capital in Andhra Pradesh. There are reports that an acre of land in Seemandhra (around Vijayawada) is costing Rs 1 crore. And they are talking about acquiring 30,000 acres. It is insane. So building new cities will be very expensive. DMIC is building seven smart cities. The time frame for those cities is 2040.

Look at new cities, such as Jaypee [Sports] City or Lavasa. Is Lavasa an inclusive city? No. they are not. Lavasa is a gated township, and largely for the elite. Right outside its gates, there are many slums. They have boundary walls. Our cities cannot have boundary walls.

Q. Is there a standard definition to define smart cities across the globe?

A. Every single city that has followed the smart city programme around the world, barring a few, such as South Korea, where they have a standard model, every city defines its own smart agenda. It is not smart to have a standard model because every city is different. (However), smart cities around the world have common features. One, they use information and communication technology in a big way. They use big data. They collect data and harness it. Today, we are in a situation where 90-95 per cent of data that is produced in cities - recorded in some form - is not used to make decisions and improve systems.

If we harness this data, it gives us intelligence about inefficiencies, behavioural patterns and priorities. Smart planning is fundamental to smart cities. Smart planning means using geo-spatial mapping as a base for planning. Our plans are two-dimensional, outdated and not updated regularly. If you pick up the master plan of Delhi, it does not show the actual ground conditions. It shows some notional land use allocation. We don't have smart cities. Globally, there are many cities that have gone very far into becoming smart-San Fransisco, London, Barcelona, Dublin, Belfast and Copenhagen, (are a few examples).

Full smartness has been achieved in some Greenfield projects - there's Mazdar (in Abu Dhabi) which is 5 sq kms and Songdo in South Korea which is about 6 sq km. (In comparison,) Delhi is 1,483 sq km. A smart city also harnesses the economies of scales. Brownfield projects have to start with some things which will be all over the place, and some things that will be incremental. For instance, if you want to improve energy management, you will first pick up central business districts or high-density housing areas. Smart city development in India will be phase-wise. We must also recognise that smart cities are not going to be engineered by governments. They have to be built in partnership with the private sector. The public has to be on board and private sector has to invest in these cities. In a matter of few years, we will stop using word 'smart'. Singaporeans don't use the word smart, they talk about livable cities.

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