Urbanization can bring significant benefits to a country’s economy, development and citizens. But it can also lead to significant inequality.
In fact, India’s urban population has grown by more than 1 percent per year over the past decade, making it one of the fastest-growing urban populations in the world.
But while urbanization has delivered some clear benefits to India’s economy, it has also created significant challenges for the population. “Poverty, unemployment, environmental degradation and poor health facilities are becoming the signature feature of Indian cities,” notes Vivek Aggarwal, Secretary to the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh and Commissioner of Urban Development. “There are growing concerns that India’s cities will be known for overcrowding and underachievement rather than global centers of growth and opportunity.”
India’s Smart Cities Mission, announced by Prime Minister Modi in 2015, hopes to change that trajectory. Backed by a budget of more than US$15 billion, the vision is to create 100 new smart cities and to rejuvenate 500 existing cities across the country. In part, the Mission aims to catalyze continued economic growth within the cities. But the Government also hopes that the initiative will improve the lives of India’s growing urban population.
“India’s Smart Cities Mission is crucial to fostering spaces that are safe and creative for the young, old and differently- abled inhabitants of India’s urban areas,” notes Mr. Aggarwal. “By using the latest technologies, we hope to create jobs, provide energy efficient housing, high frequency mass transportation, 24/7 water and power supply and seamless internet connectivity so that millions of Indians can live, work and play with maximum productivity and a minimum impact on the environment.”
In early 2016, the Ministry of Urban Development announced the ’20 Lighthouse Cities’ that would lead India’s Smart Cities initiative. Of the 20, three were proposed by the Madhya Pradesh State Government: Jabalpur, Indore and Bhopal.
“In Madhya Pradesh, we have adopted a ‘responsible development’ approach that focuses on responding to the future needs of our citizens,” adds Mr. Aggarwal. “The goal is to anticipate the future needs of citizens rather than simply responding to today’s design trends. We want to build cities that will be seen as a model for inclusive cities and will represent workplaces of the future.”
To achieve this, the State has put significant focus on improving the collection, management and analysis of data. “Citizens create massive amounts of data through their activities and interactions, and this data can be harnessed to show what people actually do, rather than what they say they do,” says Mr. Aggarwal. “Harnessing analytics to make sense of the patterns in the data allows us to understand the ‘science of cities’ in a way that was not possible before.”
Measurement has been key to the State’s success to date. Many cities are now starting to measure key servicesand inventory resources with the intention of creating low-waste, low-carbon strategies that allow cities to track key aspects such as resource depletion and greenhouse gas emissions. With this data, the cities hope to eventually improve the way they manage their financial and natural resources.
One of the keys to Madhya Pradesh’s success to date has been the State’s focus on creating the right underlying infrastructure to support the development of smarter cities. For example, the State has developed a cloud-based data center in Bhopal that will serve all of the Smart Cities across the State. This will allow the cities to standardize around specific software platforms and visualize their performance through dashboards and data analytics tools.
“The city Command and Control Center will eventually act as the backbone of the city and will provide a decision support system that integrates all of the civic services into a single display,” adds Mr. Aggarwal. “This will allow cities to not only optimize costs and reduce complexity, it will also create opportunities for local and international systems integrators to provide best-fit solutions that suit our cities’ needs.”
The State is leveraging their investment to drive ICT infrastructure into the vast majority of existing cities across Madhya Pradesh. And this is enabling significant benefits for cities and citizens. “A strong urban ICT backbone will allow us to convert streetlights to LED, equip public schools with smart labs, modernize city health infrastructure and improve the ease of doing business in the State with faster clearance processes and improved access to city services,” adds Mr. Aggarwal.
While financial aid for the Lighthouse Cities will only become available in the 2017-2022 planning cycle, the Government of Madhya Pradesh has already started to make significant progress towards their goals.
The Common Command Control and Communications Center has already been established to serve the seven planned Smart Cities within the State. At the same time, many of the State’s Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) are well on their way to digitizing their own disparate payment mechanisms into a single integrated system, which has greatly improved revenues, the quality of services and convenience for citizens.
To improve local innovation and create indigenous solutions to India’s city challenges, the State is also creating city labs that will act as technology incubation and proof of concept centers. “The idea is to create an urban marketplace for new technologies that will not only meet the Government of India’s vision but will also help us define the quality and standards that we will expect across the State,” adds Mr. Aggarwal.
Madhya Pradesh’s experience to date suggests that localization is key to sustainable smart city development. “You can’t just take a model from overseas and implement it locally, as every city has its own ethos, culture, psychology, system and style,” he notes. “We need to carefully study and consider internationally available models but — more importantly — we then need to amend and adapt these ideas to suit our own local conditions.”
Ultimately, the needs of local citizens must be the driving force behind any new developments. “City infrastructure is there to serve the citizens of the city and that means focusing on improving the quality of life,” he adds. “We want our children to grow up in cities they can experience, walk in and work in. And that, in turn, will enable us to foster a more sustainable, healthy and dynamic society in our urban centers.”