The Centre’s announcement on Friday of a list of another 30 cities that will be included in the Smart Cities Mission, which seeks to turn them into modern cities that are connected digitally, takes the total number of proposed smart cities to 90 involving estimated investment of Rs 1.91 lakh crore. India’s ambitious goal of turning existing cities into smart cities and creating new ones involves the Central government, the state governments, urban local bodies (ULBs), citizens and private partners. Since the project, launched in June 2015, is a relatively new one in India, The Indian Express studied a similar smart city project in Finland, which has been in the works for seven years now, to see what can be the key takeaways.
Keeping citizens at the centre of all innovation and development, Kalasatama, a smart city being built near the Finnish capital Helsinki, has set one of its primary goals to free one hour for its residents everyday by offering smart mobility and other solutions, including daily-use mobile apps. At around 432 acres in size and with plans to accommodate 25,000 people by 2030, the scale of the city may seem small compared to many of the Indian cities that have been selected under the Smart Cities Mission. Yet, its idea of being turned into an innovation platform for start-up companies and to use citizen inputs for designing features of the city comes across as a novel approach to learn from.
“Our idea of designing a future city was that it should be able to significantly improve the life of the citizens. In that sense, the focus is on the project being able to provide an extra free hour for its residents,” said Veera Mustonen, programme director of Smart Kalasatama project. The city is being used as an innovation platform involving different stakeholders such as citizens, universities, researchers and start-ups and large companies, she said. One start-up, for instance, created a single app for all means of transportation for better mobility, which is now being used. An apartment complex built exclusively for seniors have a common community kitchen, an idea which was given shape after discussion with its residents.
India also organised citizen-centric proposals in initial phases to prepare concrete smart city plans that can be submitted to the Central government. Once selected, every future smart city in India needs a special purpose vehicle (SPV), which does planning, funding and implementation of development projects. The SPV is headed by a full-time chief executive officer (CEO) and have nominees of the Central government, state governments and ULBs.
Apart from funding from the government, the SPV can raise additional resources from the market by executing projects through joint ventures, subsidiaries, public-private partnership (PPP) and turnkey contracts. The Central government provides Rs 500 crore to each city over five years in the form of a tied grant. Since its launch on June 15, 2015, the Indian Smart Cities Mission has approved total investment worth Rs 1.91 lakh crore for 90 selected cities. The government will select another 10 cities under the mission, taking the total number to 100.
The Kalasatama model also appears roughly the same but it’s different in the sense that the entire land for the project is being provided by the government and developed by private builders through different models of rental and ownership-based housing. The city also provides subsidised housing to needy sections of the society.
Kalasatama is being built in the middle of an existing compact urban structure, with ongoing construction of residential apartments, a main mall-cum-shopping centre, recreational areas, etc. It is a former harbour and industrial area of about 175 hectares (or around 432 acres) owned by the City of Helsinki. The work started in 2011 and is expected to go on till 2030.
“Around 2,000 persons are already living in Kalasatama. The city will house 25,000 people by 2030. Nearly 60 per cent of the land is rented by the City of Helsinki to builders, while 40 per cent land is sold to created both rental housing and ownership-based housing,” said Maija Bergström, programme coordinator for Smart Kalasatama. The services in place including two daycare centres and a school.
Bergström said that since Kalasatama is being developed into a smart city out of an existing industrial town, lot of the existing structure which have been left redundant are being redeveloped for other uses. A large gas storage chamber, for instance, is being redeveloped into an exhibition centre.
Since the smart city mission in India is largely devoted to turning existing cities into modern ones, using redundant buildings or complexes for newer purposes could be of significant advantage. This would also require the state government being quick and flexible in allowing people to change the usage of their land, something that is quite cumbersome at present.
Using existing structures for alternative and relevant purposes is the need of the hour in the current economic times when economic disruption cause fast changes, said Aleksi Neuvonen, founder of Demos Helsinki, a think-tank focusing on smarter use of natural resources. “Retail, for example, is going to be big change that is coming around because of e-commerce. Then we will have to see what to do with malls. Many people are wondering what will come out of the proposed big malls around cities like Kalasatama,” he said.