Smart city is the new buzzword and everyone is trying to decipher what it means to be smart. While this has become a talking point across India and abroad, there is actually not much clarity as to what it means to be a smart city.
Ever so often, it is considered to be a city with technological innovations and solutions. In fact, what a smart city should be about is attaining a high quality of life for all residents, especially the most vulnerable. Technology, then, becomes the means to the end, rather than the end itself. Thus, we should define and understand smart cities as those which are innovating for solutions to improve quality of life.
Defined like this, a smart city won’t be synonymous to the cities with smart light poles or CCTV cameras. Rather, these innovations will be seen as contributors to improving the safety and people’s access to the street. If a smart city is concerned with innovating to improve safety and inclusion, the light pole and the camera will be seen as part of the solution, rather than the solution itself.
The Indian government launched the Smart Cities Mission in 2016, with the aim of including 100 cities in the mission as a model for other cities to eventually adopt. The official smart city document states that there is no single definition of a smart city, but it does use the terms sustainability and inclusion. These are important elements and need to be understood to give smartness a wider connotation.
Sustainability, in the context of cities, refers to building systems that can respond continuously to needs and problems, while inclusion accepts that a diverse set of residents need to be catered to in the process of city development. The 100 cities were chosen in four rounds and the projects implemented are estimated to eventually impact the lives of nearly a 100 crore people.
Cities had to compete to be part of the mission and while Gurugram participated in the competition, it did not eventually get chosen as one of the 100 cities. While this means that the city will not get earmarked funds from the Centre for developing smart solutions, Gurugram can still work towards finding smart and innovative solutions to address key urban challenges. The areas identified under the mission include e-governance, waste management, energy management, urban mobility and other issues. It is clear that Gurugram has great challenges in each of these areas as it has grown in a largely unplanned and haphazard manner.
While the private sector has played an important role in addressing civic and urban problems in the city, many of these core issues of waste management, mobility or energy management are issues of governance and which need strategic responses from the city government.
The Municipal Corporation in Gurugram (MCG) is fairly new body set up in 2008, the Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) has been set up only last year. Governance mechanisms in the city are in the process of being developed need to be made much more robust and participatory.
A few months ago the GMDA facilitated a workshop to get citizen input into the liveability index. Building such an index will provide a good roadmap and indicators to plan projects and innovations in the city. As Gurugram aspires to become a smart city, it needs to be able to be smart and innovative in order to help its resident achieve a better quality of life, rather than smartness as a goal in itself.