What is Smart in Smart Cities

Karanvir Gupta
The winters are already here. Alarm clocks have been pushed by an hour or so. The days are shorter but activities remain the same. With darbaar move, Jammu is bustling with more activities than usual and the business shall see a spike too. Few months and the hustle-bustle of activities will move back to Srinagar. It is for these times when we feel the urge to have better infrastructure in place to cater to the influx of people and increased consumption of resources.
Though regional divide and divisive politics have been the cornerstones in making any strategic decisions, for the first time I see value in recommending both Jammu and Srinagar in the list of Smart Cities. But then I put myself and some key officials out of the comfort zone by asking questions. Is being listed in the recommended Smart City program enough? What are the key areas that will need to be worked upon in order for these cities to be “smart” in nature. Will the implementation and execution remain the same for both the cities? Are key areas of concern and interest remain same? Will this remain as a program alone or will it fructify in real-time? Converting these cities to smart cities will be enough, but what about the fringe areas? Will those not affect the effectiveness of these cities to be behaving truly smart in nature? Will it really have to wait for the Centre government to kickstart the brainstorming and execution?
We might not have answers at this point of time. But we really need to find answers to some. Because Smart City Program cannot be imagined as something Building the Future proposition. it is about building a better today and will have to be taken incrementally and on the go. I recently happened to attend a conference on Smart Tech in Smart Cities and I must say I was mesmerised by the efforts made in the same direction in some other cities across India. How technology can be revolutionising in nature and form the basis for entire overhauling of the city. We as a state are lagging far behind in terms of substantial investment done both in terms of brainstorming or execution.
It is quite understandable that for any given person between you and me, ‘Smart’ in the smart city means to us having wider roads, better infrastructure in terms of MNCs, malls and cities that are more inter-connected than before. We boil down the smartness to having more amenities and convenience for the residents of the city. But in real smart city goes beyond all this.It also means to ensure effective and efficient use of all natural resources – be water, air or soil. It means to ensure that all amenities that are enablers of development are up to date such as transport (read cleaner transport), internet connectivity, ease of billing (read paying utility bills online), less queues but more online facilities. It means opening up avenues of growth and opportunity for future, develop but preserving local heritage at the same time. Smart City also means building amenities and hence cities that cater to all classes of pyramids of the city demographics. And it also means that how all this development can be sustainable in nature (which means is available for future generations too). It means to ensure safety and security of all residents. Smart City is like building an ecosystem that nurtures each component that is part of the ecosystem.
You might think it is quite theoretical but it is not. At one point of time, I thought the same. But as and when I engage more with technology, I understand that there are practical answers to all these challenges. What we need is the will to achieve that. And most importantly, our (public’s) approval to work together towards one focused goal. We as a state need not wait for the orders to come from the centre to move ahead with the project. The push has to be from us. We need to understand that Smart City is not a coveted luxury bestowed but a necessity for our consistent growth. Because at the end centre can push the speed and fund flow. But it is the state which understands the demographics better. Centre can be an enabler but it is the state who is going to execute the plan. And in doing so, we should take inputs from coveted institutions across the state, centre and internationally and get the wheel rolling.
With poor internet connectivity, roads that have started to become choked, economy that is in a real bad shape; our age old rhetoric is causing our state no good. We need to bring together the missing blocks of the puzzle and pay huge emphasis to ‘Technology’ which is the building block of any revolution that is going to better the lives of our people today and tomorrow. We need to get talking about it. We need janta to be more participative than ever before. We do not need strikes, and bandhs and protests and dharnas; we seriously need some collaboration to harness development. It is time we change our rhetoric. We cannot wait for tomorrow to arrive before we start building a Smart City. The day is today and the work must start now.
(The writer is a political observer and enthusiast)