Unplanned migration needs ‘smart’ city planning

Social infrastructure: A city needs social infrastructure for making it habitable, and most of this social infrastructure needs a critical mass of population and consumption to be viable.

Written by Shubhranshu Pani | Published:November 5, 2016 12:54 am

migration, social infrastructure, urbanisation, smart planning, india news

Going by the growth plans envisaged by the government, India will need to invest more in its cities to make them more livable. Urbanisation is increasing at a rapid pace, and currently about 30-33 per cent of Indians live in cities. This is estimated to reach upwards of 40 per cent by 2030. The urban population would be about 600 million people at that point. It is further estimated that the number of cities with populations of a million or more are likely to double in that time.

A large component of this urbanisation would be in the form of migration to the existing cities. Unfortunately, most Indian cities are currently decidedly challenged in terms of infrastructure. An increase in urbanisation will result in more stress and breakdown of these cities; quality of life there will deteriorate. To be able to continue with the required momentum, it is expected that India would need at least 100 new cities over the next 10 years.

These cities would essentially be Greenfield (built from scratch) entities adjacent to existing cities, and developed and dependent on the existing cities. These Greenfield cities will be built around economic drivers like industries and industrial clusters, SEZs, transport nodes and satellite or intermediate cities. Over the next few years, India is going to see a fair share of such Greenfield cities. One envisages that these cities will be developed in a structured manner and built for the future — in other words, they will be future-ready. They should have adequate control on their natural resources, and will need high-grade urban planning.

In developed countries, a Smart City is one where existing infrastructure is augmented, monitored and controlled, leading to highly sustainable development. In the Indian context, the approach is necessarily different. Since many cities lack basic infrastructure, institutional frameworks and proper governance, a Smart City initiatives will first and foremost involve providing basic civic requirements and making the infrastructure robust and scalable. They have to learn to identify new and smart ways to manage the complexity of urban living. These challenges can be met in two ways — building new (Greenfield) cities or transforming existing ones.

Greenfield Cities

With a view to modernising India and accelerating the process of urbanisation, the incumbent government has launched two flagship schemes — the Smart Cities Mission and AMRUT. The mission is to develop 100 cities all over the country, making them citizen-friendly and sustainable. Setting up a new Greenfield city has its own set of unique challenges. One of the very effective models of implementation is Public Private Partnership (PPP) through which the Government of India is developing these projects. There are vast opportunities for private players in every sector on the path of making the mission possible.

Major challenges: Regional plan: The city must be envisaged vis-a-vis its existence as a member of the region, and the interactions and impact must be carefully studied. The region’s planning must augment the city’s plans to be able to provide a uniform experience Economic drivers: A clear plan of vibrant economic growth of the city based on multiple economic drivers must be the focus area of smart city.

Obsolescence of technology: Technology protocols must be amenable to modification and upgradation.

Urban mobility: Along with public transport systems, development of last-mile connectivity is necessary for optimal utilization of mass transit systems. Water and Waste management: Water and its sustainability are of key importance in new cities, which must aim to be water neutral or positive as much as possible. Sustainability in solid waste management calls for a new approach to solid waste and converting it as a resource. There is a need for solid waste management through smart solutions for clean roads and a healthy environment.

Social infrastructure: A city needs social infrastructure for making it habitable, and most of this social infrastructure needs a critical mass of population and consumption to be viable. This means that in the initial years, participation of private enterprises would be limited. It also means that to start a new Greenfield city, either the projects need to be funded by the promoting government or subsidized.

Funds: By the time the city is habitable and has a basic population, the project would at least be 7 to 10 years in the making. Unfortunately, the current funds available for this sector are only for the short-term of 10-15 years. Unless the development of the city is done out of funds that have a 20 to 30 year horizon, these projects are unlikely to survive.

Employment generators: It is important to plan along with the regional planning and Government on job creation in these cities. A critical focus on job creation is not only on the primary economic jobs created, but on service jobs. Rental housing: The real estate laws for a Smart City must be such that investors will come in and provide rental residences to people who move in to stay there. Maintenance: Smart cities should be easy to maintain and be taken care of to extend, modify and accommodate the growing needs of citizens.

(The writer is Managing Director – Strategic Consulting, JLL India)