Smart Cities will accelerate Sustainable Development

20 Mar 2019

The United Nation’sa Sustainable Development Goals address the global challenges we face related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, peace and justice. Governments are working to meet the set goals for sustainable development by the target year of 2030, effectively trying to improve the quality of life of citizens.

It is widely believed that actual economic growth lies in urbanisation. Already half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, which is expected to rise to 75 %  by 2050. 80% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product is created in cities. In India, rural-to-urban migration is growing at a phenomenal rate, and the pace is expected to accelerate.

Hence, the path to sustainable development must pass through cities.

To prepare for this migration and fast-track India’s development, the Indian government announced the Smart Cities Mission in 2015 with a view to provide cities that offer good basic infrastructure, a clean and sustainable environment with ‘smart’ applications using technology, information and data to create a ‘replicable model’ which will serve as inspiration and role model for other cities. The Mission aimed to create 100 Smart Cities across India in 5 years, ending 2019-20.

Put simply, a Smart City would have:

Adequate and assured water and electricity supply and good sanitation and waste management
Efficient urban mobility and public transport
Affordable housing, especially for the poor
Excellent connectivity and digitisation
Good governance, especially e-governance
Safety and security of citizens
Excellent health and education facilities and
Sustainable development

Sustainable development vis-à-vis Smart Cities is about the ‘magic mantra’ of reuse, recycle, replenish, which will be used in existing cities as well as new cities coming up. The focus is on:

implementing the ‘green building’ concept,
recycling garbage for compost and methane gas;
harnessing wind and solar power;
charging the water table through rain water harvesting; and
sewage treatment which provides treated sewage in the form of water for gardens and construction/ cleaning purposes.

Smart architecture, which is in sync with wind and natural light resources, will not only help control air and water pollution, but also encourage using construction material that is ‘eco-friendly’ and which should not create ecological imbalance.

Digital technologies will be the backbone of Smart Cities and will be integrated into the city’s core infrastructure systems and used to build intelligent buildings, transportation systems, schools, enterprises, public spaces, and public services integrating each constituent into the intelligent urban systems.

Smart Cities deploy intelligent urban systems to service socio-economic development and improving urban quality of life by overcoming the limitations of traditional urban development that tends to manage urban infrastructure systems in silos.

Thus, data and analytics will be key to urban decision-makers in Smart Cities not only to collect, analyse, and channel data for making better decisions at the municipal level, but also in anticipating and planning for growth.   

An International Development Research Centre (IDRC) report on Smart Cities indicates that developing countries are yet to fully utilise their potential. While only 12% of the most published Smart City researchers are from developing countries, only 8% Smart City policy organizations are based in developing countries. Developing countries, due to a lack of indigenous policy organizations, tend to adopt policy frameworks provided by and tested in developed countries, which may not be optimal, or even desirable for their own circumstances.

India’s ‘Smart City Mission’ is operated as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) and the Central Government provides financial support, with matching funds from the States in which the cities are being developed. The government is taking into consideration the specific challenges and parameters that are unique to India in driving this Mission, and the efforts have started showing results and are expected to contribute majorly to India’s inclusive and sustainable development.

As the wave of technology and artificial intelligence sweeps through the country, it is essential to harness its power for development while ensuring that sustainability and development go hand-in-hand.    

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