Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to build up to 100 ‘smart cities’ across the country as part of the Make In India initiative, starting with Delhi. These smart cities, characterised as industrial and economic hubs, will be on a mission to offer universally decent living conditions and quality of life to all residents, while helping put India on the map as a centre of manufacturing. Another focus of Modi’s smart cities will be a “waste to wealth” ethos which aims to deploy superior waste management and water treatment.
“We want to make Delhi a truly global city, having all the latest and modern amenities that any other global city like London or San Francisco has,” says M Venkaiah Naidu, Union Urban Development Minister. “Delhi is the heart of India and the first smart city would come up here. The city of Barcelona in Spain has also promised technological support to us in our effort in this direction.” Naidu envisions a city with an educational, health and entertainment proposition to equal any in the United States.
“The smart city will have a world class infrastructure, 24 hour power supply, complete wi-fi connectivity, and will employ green technology and latest water conservation techniques like rain harvesting and waste management techniques, among other facilities,” says DDA Vice Chairman Balvinder Kumar. A sub-city within Delhi, it will measure an area of approximately 24 hectares across the Dwarka, Rohini and Narela districts. While Delhi is the pilot project, Modi plans to roll out four mini industrial cities by March. Bids are welcome from around the world, with Japan giving the project considerable support in the form of a $4.5 billion investment.
In a draft note for the smart cities scheme, the Union Urban Development Ministry highlights a lack of citizen participation as a crucial flaw in current urban planning: “People do not get the feel of ownership of the city… There is a need for involving citizens in decision-making processes.” Modi’s new cities, to be built in existing cities and along industrial corridors, aim to remedy this by fostering better two way communication, both externally and internally. As Marie-Perrine Durot, Technology Partnership Director at PRIME, points out: “Becoming a ‘smart city’ is first and foremost all about getting sectors which have up to now been working independently to dialogue and work together.”
This increasingly collaborative approach is representative of urban planning all over the world; cities such as Chicago, Seattle and Washington D.C. are now hiring technology executives to implement efficient digital solutions, such as air pollution monitors which identify areas most affected by smog and were a roaring success in New York. Back in 2013 (doesn’t that feel like a long time ago now?), Los Angeles became the first ever city to digitally synchronise all 4,500 traffic lights within the city limits, cutting an average 12% off commute times.
“Since the first Industrial Revolutions fuelled the explosion in urban population growth, municipal governments have looked for ways to efficiently run services for densely located networks of people,” says Shawn DuBravac. “As sensors become more affordable and more ubiquitous, city officials have access to systems that their predecessors could never have imagined. Today, sensors are being used to monitor and dynamically adjust important public services, from parking availability to public transportation to snow removal to security.”
Think of it as the Internet of Things, except instead of your smartphone telling your stereo which room you’re in, it’s the environment around you making life that little bit easier. In the case of India and Modi’s smart city project, that little bit could make all the difference to the health and livelihood of millions of people.