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Are Smart cities really Smart? Where can they go wrong?

Are Smart cities really Smart? Where can they go wrong?


While “Smart Cities”is the new ambitious project by the government of India and the country has witnessed some major announcements around it, a research from other part of the world warns that India must rethink its infrastructure needs before hitting the target.

To get a background, India has set a target of creating 100 smart cities by 2022 with a budget of around Rs. 48,000 crores to be spent during the entire duration. With the Smart City project, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been working tirelessly in transforming cities into smarter and highly tech friendly. The most recent development has been in the form of Smart Roads aka IoT enabled roads that India’s Silicon Valley would soon be witnessing.

With more than 100 cities assumingly boasting facilities like IoT enabled roads, modern infrastructure, Wi-Fi all over the places, smart dustbin, improved traffic management, smart parking and other tech enabled perks, what could possible go wrong? How can the so-called “Smart Cities” have detrimental impact on the environment? How can sustainable, environment friendly ‘smart’ city backfire? Let’s find out.

Smart Cities not so smart?

A recent research led by Professor Hugh Byrd a specialist in urban planning from the University of Lincoln, U.K., has suggested that India should carry a detailed analysis of the environmental implications that planned developments can potentially have. It fears that changes such as replacement of medium rise houses with 4-5 storeys to high rise towers of 40-60 storeys could bring detrimental effects.

The research, which was carried out as a part of studying the relationship between urban form and resources consumption, calls for a reality check.

Carried out in the densest city of the world, Mumbai, it studied the environmental impact of the proposed redevelopment that can result in an increased density of 5000 persons per hectare from the present 3500 persons. It investigates the environmental impact of a proposed redevelopment of 16.5-acre site in Mumbai’s Bhendi Bazaar, which has been put forward as a flagship of the proposed new ‘smart cities’.

Smart aims vs. the research results:

The government’s idea of Smart City is to have adequate water supply, assured electricity supply, sanitation, efficient urban mobility, affordable housing, robust IT connectivity, reduced congestion, safety, security etc.  

But, if the research results are to be believed, the increase in population density is likely to place significant extra demands on resources such as electricity and water, while simultaneously increasing the output of waste in the form of drainage, solid waste and greenhouse gases.

The study, which was carried out in three stages involved the analysis of physical characteristics of the new exemplar development and comparing these with the existing, comparing the environmental performance of both current and suggested area and extrapolating the results of the case study across whole of the Island City to establish full impact of a smart city.

The study makes a comparison of features like the height of the building, population density, parking provision, open space, street frontages, light usage, landscape of the current urban form with the proposed one.

In the present situation where repeated electricity blackouts, water rationing, inadequate waste and sewage treatment are rampant, a further increase in population density could have a significant detrimental effect on the environment, it suggested

“The pursuit of cities to become ‘smart’, ‘world-class’, ‘livable’, ‘green’ or ‘eco’, has been promoted alongside increased population densities and urban compaction. This planning goal must reach a point where resources are inadequate for the fully functioning metabolism of a city”, Professor Hugh Byrd said.

He further shared that in this case, the results indicate that metabolism doesn’t increase linearly with density but accelerates instead, resulting in an increased detrimental environmental impact.

On a concluding note:

Though case studies such as Bhendi Bazaar are an excellent example of how India is progressing through the idea of achieving 100 Smart Cities, a little improvement in terms of managing the density and bringing adequate infrastructure can promote developments that we aim to witness. While the cities are adopting smarter ways to create a smart yet sustainable city, little tweaking in the methodology, if brings better result cannot be a bad idea.

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