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Some perplexCity: Sounds Smart, but what does it really mean?

The process of identifying cities that will become ‘Smart’ is under way, but the Centre has given no clear definition of a Smart City in the Indian context. ‘Efficiency’ and ‘better management’ are key concepts.

Written by Shalini Nair | New Delhi |
Updated: September 2, 2015 11:34:58 am
Smart cities, India smart cities, Smart city, Smart cities news, Smart cities announced, Venkaiah Naidu Smart cities, India news The chosen cities are currently working on their Smart City Plans. Here’s what is known about the promises and process of India’s urban transformation mission — and a few case studies of how Smart Cities abroad work.

The Centre has launched a Smart Cities mission, but there is little clarity on what the catchword will really mean for these teeming, often decrepit cities. The chosen cities are currently working on their Smart City Plans. Here’s what is known about the promises and process of India’s urban transformation mission — and a few case studies of how Smart Cities abroad work.

The Centre’s Mind

The central government has provided no clear definition of a Smart City in the Indian context, but the keywords in its mission statement are “efficiency” and “better management” of basic service provision, infrastructure and urban mobility. The aim is to better manage water supply through metering; waste management through waste-to-energy, or fuel conversion; energy management through the promotion of green buildings or use of renewable sources; and ‘smart’ traffic management and parking facilities. This list is illustrative, and the concept is basically about harnessing technology in various spheres of urban life.


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Choosing 100 Cities

The central government had assigned each state a quota to make nominations based on a 50:50 weightage for their number of statutory cities and urban population density. This is why all union territories, Northeastern states, and small states like Goa, as well as states such as Kerala or Uttarakhand were allowed only one Smart City each — while Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra could nominate the largest number of cities. States had to shortlist their nominees based on an intra-state competition.


The cites were graded on 13 criteria that showed their existing service levels (performance on Swachh Bharat scale or online grievance system), institutional capacities (increase in revenue collection etc.), ability to self-finance, and past track record (e.g. in implementation of reforms mandated under the previous urban renewal mission, JNNURM). The lists of top scorers were sent to the central government.

Making Cities Smart

The combined funding from the union and state governments, as well as the urban local bodies, for all cities is less than Rs 1 lakh crore. This is a disproportionately small sum for the scale of ambition involved in a project to develop 100 Smart Cities. Hence, much of the investment will come from private firms, developers and technology vendors, who are expected to now see huge space for investment in an urban infrastructure sector that is largely closed currently. The plan will be executed by a Special Purpose Vehicle, in which the state and the urban local body will have majority shareholding, split equally between them. The rest can be held by private players or financial institutions.

Models of Smartness

The two primary models defined by the Ministry of Urban Development are ‘Area-based Development’, and ‘Pan-City Development’. The latter involves application of ‘smart’ solutions through use of data and technology to an aspect of citywide infrastructure or transport. Area-based development could be through retrofitting, redevelopment or greenfield development. In the first model, an area of at least 500 acres would be taken up for improvement through retrofitting. In case of redevelopment, the minimum area has to be 50 acres, which can be redeveloped into high-density mixed land-use areas. Greenfield development will be allowed along the periphery of existing cities over an area of 250 acres. The criteria for these models are tailored for Indian cities.

Global Examples

Retrofitting: In 2005, the London suburb of Hackbridge, with a population of 8,000 people, took up a decade-long project to become the first zero-carbon area in the UK. It started by taking up mass retrofitting of all homes to improve energy use, promoting green businesses and local food schemes so as to cut down on carbon emissions.

Redevelopment: The urban regeneration of 200 hectares of industrial area and former shipping docks in Nordhavn in Copenhagen, Denmark, is based on the concept of providing living spaces around two large public spaces and several smaller parks. With an aim to become the world’s first carbon-neutral capital, Copenhagen has launched an ambitious project in Nordhavn to recycle resources, using renewable energy and sustainable transport.

Greenfield: The $ 35 billion venture of Songdo International Business District in South Korea has been planned on 1,500 acres of reclaimed land. The city, which will on completion have 80,000 apartments, 5 crore sq ft of office space, and 1 crore sq ft of retail space, has been planned on green buildings principles with open spaces accounting for 40 per cent of land. The city has sensors to monitor everything from traffic flow to energy use.

Pan-city development: Hafencity in Germany’s Hamburg, Europe’s largest inner-city development in recent years, has experimented with e-mobility through electric bicycles and electric cars in a car-sharing model as an alternative means of transportation.

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