Smart City Implementation – Where to start?

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Pune recently got short-listed in 98 smart city list by Govt. of India. There is so much of hoopla around smart cities now a days and it seems like everyone is grappling with correct definition and implementation approach of a Smart city.

If you scratch the surface, the implementation approaches can be broadly classified in two ways:

  1. Top Down approach: Where Govt. starts with investments in urban infrastructure uplift (like better roads, water supply), lay down technology infrastructure (like wi-fi corridors), invest in smart technology solutions (like smart water management, or smart grid), gear towards achieving certain KPIs, gain cost reduction and eventually provide better civic services to citizen. Thus Govt. can perform better on certain KPI and become smart in that focus area.
  2.  Bottom up approach: Where Govt. starts with Citizen engagement, social media connect, encourage citizen participation and provide more connected services. These services may be as small as providing SMS alert about changing water supply schedule per area. Many cities also open up their data as service to citizen using open data portal, encourage citizen to build apps and provide economic opportunity as well as benefits to other citizen. The main KPI here is citizen connect and livability. The investment required may not be very huge.

 In smart city mission second phase, these 98 cities are working with consultants to create the proposal for smart city implantation. While prioritizing these projects,  city municipal corporations should give equal importance to both top down and bottom up approaches. While the top down projects like smart grid management, water management are very essential, one has to realize that  these are big ticket items with long term timeline, considerations and hence complex approval cycle. Meanwhile cities can make smaller investments in bottom up projects to get quick low-hanging fruits!

 This is where cities should start from “as-is“. It should leverage its current assets, and build on them. One of the biggest assets that city municipality has is humongous amount of data like:

  • Resource (water, electricity)  demand and consumption
  • Basic facilities available in a city (healthcare, education, financial)
  • Public transportation information
  • Number of vehicles, emission levels
  • Number of trees, parks, green corridors
  • Crime statistics
  • Disease outbreaks, healthcare facilities and so on…

 Traditionally, citizen access to this information has been via news media, municipality offices or via local politician’s efforts. The amount of information available online in real-time manner is very limited.

 On the other hand, Government officials themselves are not able to leverage this data to take informed decisions based on historical trends or real-time alerts. This vast amount of data in various silos needs to be co-related, processed and integrated to achieve following objective:

  • Make it useful to the city
  • Define new value chains
  • Channelize city resource optimization
  • Effective urban planning
  • Economic opportunities creation

 This will serve as first step towards transparency and citizen connect. When more and more citizen get access to this information in real-time, their engagement with city increases and it results in emotional attachment with the city.

 Many governments across the globe including Govt. of India are embracing  open data initiative (data.gov.in) with the intent of its consumption resulting in new insights and value chains. Following this lead, cities too should facilitate this at local level.

Image Credits: buzzfeed.com

(Disclaimer: I thank readers for their responses on this blog. I am adding a disclaimer after reading some of these comments. This is “apolitical” point-of-view on smart city implementation written by a technologist. I am not a promoter nor a detractor of Smart City Mission by Govt. of India. I am analyzing this opportunity only from technology point of view and NOT from the angles of social transformation, inclusivity, slum vs. rich, and economics.)

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