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Adding Smartness to our City – Getting the Smart City Implementation Right

Samrat Sen

This article was originally published in Business World and has been reproduced here with permission.

The Smart City concept isn’t new, but it’s become popular in recent times. Creating a successful smart city is contingent on getting some critical areas right. These include deploying the right technology platform, appropriate governance models, the right development strategy and best use cases, and ensuring citizen privacy and security.

Building the right technology platform

Smart cities thrive on three essential layers of technology:

  • Embedded sensors
  • Open platforms to enable IoT devices to send and receive varied data like traffic congestion to water leakage onto the central server for processing
  • Applications to translate large volume of sensor data into a decision support system from control room

Once these systems are up and running, citizen adoption of such apps via smart devices comes in at the top of the tech platform.

Using right use cases and fit-for-purpose development strategy

When Government of India launched Smart City Mission in 2015 across 100 cities, it used an innovative approach. Almost 80% projects were earmarked for area-based development (ABD), with 20% for pan-city development. Though pan-city development benefits a larger citizen profile, ADB has more aesthetic appeal and brings more advantages to the city’s economy. The reason is that right use case and development strategy is a country- or city-specific issue – what works in Singapore may not work in an Indian city.

ABD is classified into three different models:

  • Retrofitting: Identifying areas with over 500 acres to develop smart city use cases
  • Redevelopment: Developing existing underdeveloped areas such as slums
  • Greenfield: Introducing Smart Solutions in vacant areas spanning over 250 acres

This structured model segregates the complex and diverse population of Indian cities, from software zones to affluent areas to slums. This approach enables equitable growth and development across all areas and sections of society, whether it be the development of densely-populated Bhendi Bazaar in Mumbai, Smart E-Bus in Pune or solid waste management in Bangalore.

Enabling sustainability and disaster management

While the objective behind Smart City is to provide better quality of life with optimal resource utilisation, it also fulfills the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs). In fact, of the 17 SDGs, smart cities directly impact areas such as water supply and sanitation, sustainable mobility, affordable and clean energy, waste and recycling, supporting the poor and marginalized, as well as education or food deprivation. The reason? The infrastructure laid out for Smart City initiative is highly effective in implementing macro-policies pursued to address these global issues.

For example, a study by Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs (MoHUA) shows India’s smart cities were better equipped to manage and respond to COVID-19. AI-enabled video analysis to alert the police in Agra, drones used for sanitization in Varanasi or 24×7 control room telemedicine and counselling facilities in Jabalpur and Ujjain showcase how smart cities have rapidly responded to the pandemic compared with their “non-smart” counterparts.

Designing cybersecurity and privacy issues

Watchdogs is a fictional game where a hacktivist takes over the central server and gains control of the city’s civic operations, virtually holding the city to ransom. This could become the nightmarish reality of a Smart City system too. For instance, the SamSam malware attack in the USA is an example of what cities can face. In early 2018, SamSam wiped out large quantity of video surveillance footage of Atlanta police networks. The group later targeted a hospital in Indiana, and officials paid a large ransom to get their systems restored.

While the use of sensors and data collection is increasing security and privacy concerns, studies show Indian businesses and consumers have low awareness of cybersecurity or smartphone malware. This is a challenge for city administrators to take proactive, visible actions to ensure citizens feel secure themselves and for their data. While the government has launched cyber cleanup initiatives like m-kavach and USB Pratirodh, security awareness should be an ongoing activity to gain citizen confidence.

Smart Cities are here to stay

In our urbanized world, technology-led interventions are essential for giving citizens the experience they need and seek. However, innovative technology – and the funds to innovate and deliver – will not in themselves create a smart city. A compelling smart city vision with resilience and sustainability at its core is what will help evolve our cities for the future.

As India moves to take its rightful place globally, it needs a program of development and economic progress that will be commensurate with its rising power. There’s a critical need for equitable and balanced growth, especially in Tier 2 and 3 cities. The country’s Smart City project could just be the answer to that!