Lessons from Brazil for Smart Cities

Curtiba, with 2 million population, has set up a functioning model to manage urban growth sustainably.

The ambiguity of the concept of smart city in India has come to an end. The Union Cabinet has cleared the way to implement 100 smart cities allocating Rs 48,000 crore. It is to be operated on a mission mode aimed at “recasting the urban landscape of the country by making cities more livable, inclusive and become drivers of economic growth”. This is a step towards fulfilling the BJP manifesto that promised ‘to build 100 cities enabled with latest technology and infrastructure’.

The prime minister’s model of smart city is already taking shape in Dholera, 100 km from Ahmedabad. It is being built on the upcoming Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor with an area of 903 square km, to be developed in six phases. It aims at converging next generation technological solutions to build and manage this city. Launched by Narendra Modi during his term as chief minster of Gujarat, it will become a reality by the end of this decade.

What are the ingredients of a smart city? Obviously, it lays emphasis on digital technologies to improve the quality of public and private services. It also aims at reducing the transaction costs and rational use of the resources. With large number netizens, it aims at participation of people in decision making and implementing the idea. It offers technocratic solutions using big data to aid governance of cities. In addition to these, it allows foreign direct investment to work in these smart cities with ease.

With almost 32 per cent of the country’s population living in urban India, the trends indicate that it will increase further in the coming years putting enormous pressure on the available urban resources. It is hoped that the implementation of the smart city concept will pave way for better utilisation of the resources, avoiding wastage and making the life livable in cities.

The present crisis of urban planning indicates the complexities of providing five basic goods and services essential for a smooth functioning of urban life. First is provision of clean, potable water, second is communication infrastructure to facilitate easy mobility and the third is affordable housing. A workable waste management system is essential to make a city livable. And finally, healthcare should be assured and be inclusive.

Unfortunately, most of the cities fail to provide these services or it is inadequate. Water has to be brought from hundreds of kms away; communication infrastructure is in shambles leading to high levels of air pollution.

Urban India generates 1,88,500 tonnes of waste per day of which 95 per cent is dumped on land affecting

the neighbouring villages. In real terms, our urban landscapes have become parasites that depend on countryside to extract resources and dump the waste. With these myriad problems, will smart cities provide solutions?

Managing urban growth

Curtiba is the capital city of Parana state in Brazil with a population of two million people. It has set up a functioning model of managing urban growth in a sustainable way.

Ecological ideas are put into practice, incorporating efficient transport system, user friendly open green spaces, systematic waste pick up and management. It also provides free education and health services. While achieving these goals, it creates jobs for the people. The most important aspect is the active participation of the citizens in this noble effort to make the sustainable concept work.

The inclusiveness is part of their action plan in which poor people have opportunities of free internet connectivity, pro poor housing and recreation facilities. Public transport is almost free, with less emphasis on private transport. The plastic bottles or wastes can be collected and exchanged for public services.

In fact, Curtiba is a city that has all the qualities of a smart city –it is livable, green, and inclusive and a driver of economic growth creating jobs for the common people. It is not a parasite, but an entity striving to sustain on its own while practicing the concept of zero waste. It has also addressed the problem of air pollution with decentralised public transport.

This model shows that it is not only the developed world that has smart cities, but even a developing nation like Brazil that has its own model rooted in its culture and ethos. It has succeeded in addressing the critical issue of ecology, equity and economic growth with least finances and funding.

If we can learn form Curtiba, our dream of smart cities with Rs 100 crore for each city can create fantastic results. Our people can improve on this concept and make it work. However, this model will not attract foreign capital, there will be no contracts for corporate giants to manage big data and mine profits.

Is the Indian government  willing to learn form this humble effort? It is obvious that the government is aiming at big funding, windfall profits with infallible faith on technological solutions rather than on the ingenuity of people with simple, workable solutions.

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