Infra development key to smart cities

Experts are clear that unless infrastructure is developed rapidly, new smart cities will fail to attract people.

Finally, the government has announced 98 out of 100 cities to be developed under the Smart India Mission. What are the major challenges to make these cities as smart cities? Town planners are of the view that unless better and efficient bus and rail connectivity is developed to reach these cities, the whole idea of smart cities would be defeated.

In the past, we have seen that due to bad connectivity, the very goal of National Capital Region (NCR) with Delhi as its hub, could not be achieved. The current scene is not only bad, but horrible to say the least.

For instance, take the case of Meerut. It is part of NCR since many years but the connectivity between Delhi and Meerut, which is arguably the most important city of Western Uttar Pradesh, is appalling. However, if connectivity factor is addressed, city like Karnal can become another Gurgaon of Haryana.

It goes without saying that while all the would be smart cities have good schools, markets and hospitals, they cannot attract people to live there from Delhi or other big cities due to bad connectivity.

There is also one opinion that if you cannot improve the power supply in new smart cities, it would not be called as smart cities. It is high time that all the stake-holders make an all out effort to improve the road and rail connectivity of these cities and also greatly improve the power supply.

Noted town planner Anil Dewan of Delhi-based School of Planning and Architecture is of the view that in order to make any city as smart city, infrastructure facilities such as transport, power, communication, drinking water, sewerage and drainage are key. While one should not expect magic, one can only hope that all the stake-holders will provide such facilities in all these cities in future.

It would be better if we go for integrated cities rather than smart cities. One only hopes that the new cities will be developed in such a way that they would be self-contained and worth living. The new smart cities should provide state-of-the-art amenities such as multiple internet service providers and telecommunications pro-viders, 100 per cent power back-up, good transport system, ample parking space, high-end security system etc.

A McKinsey Global Institute report, ‘India’s urban awakening: Building inclusive cities, sustaining economic growth,’ states India would need many new townships to house about 590 million people by 2030. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi was talking about smart cities, he was talking about integrated township.

What is integrated township? What are the key features that make any city as smart city? Town planners are of the view that while building a smart city, it ideally has to be self-sustainable in most aspects and be able to address at least the basic needs of residents.

It has to be self-sustained with a number of developments that include residential, commercial, retail, educational, as well as industrial areas in some cases. “I feel that they should have a balanced mix of residential and commercial spaces along with well-developed infrastructure and recreational amenities besides green and open spaces,” says Nikhil Jain, CEO of Ramprastha developers.

Experts are clear that unless infrastructure is developed in a rapid pace, the new smart cities would fail to attract people to shift there. The decision should be followed up with preparation and implementation. Otherwise, some shady builders will start accumulating land, leading to speculative price rise.

There are also fears that the announcement of the smart cities might lead to a price bubble there too, which may not be a good sign for the real estate market on the whole. The point is when end-user is not going to the existing areas that have seen some development already, why will they go to newer areas.

If we talk about the NCR cities like Noida, Gurgaon, Greater Noida and Faridabad, you would observe that enough planning was not put to make such cities worth-living. Forget about other things, in the absence of proper public transport system, it is not easy to live in such places.

Power shortage and lack of uniformity in terms of power tariffs between NCR cities and Delhi proves the point that our policy framers hardly make any long term policy in order to ease the pressure of metro cities like Delhi.

Will people of big cities and metro move to new smart cities when they would be fully developed? In the recent years, many cities have been identified to be developed as part of the NCR.

But a look at the infrastructural development in areas like Bulandshahar, Hapur, Bagpat and even Meerut in spite of being on the NCR map for several years is nothing much to be elated about. In the light of this fact, one only hopes that we will develop smart cities with all the sincerity.

Town planners say that the latest move of the government to invest in smart cities will ease the burden on the existing infrastructure in big cities besides opening up more avenues for affordable housing.

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