Smart Cities would need smart citizens

The human factor is vital in ensuring that the smart city is effective

Smart Cities would need smart citizens
Smart Cities are meant to leverage the benefits of technology to simplify, improve and automate routine governance processes to improve the quality of life, as well as optimise resources. A Smart City includes an integrated e-governance system along with infrastructure (transport, parking, traffic management, power, water, safety and security) management and citizens’ services.
 
The beauty of a Smart City is that it is an integrated ‘sense, analyse, control and data log’ system that encompasses every citizen, infrastructure, resource, geography and past data. For example, a smart video surveillance system should identify a new object in the area; the birth of a baby in a family should automatically add to the population record of the city as well as issue a new Aadhaar number; construction and occupation of a new house should automatically add to the electrical and water demand of a locality, etc. All this assumes that we have an integrated and up-to-date database.

While a Smart City needs to have well-defined processes that include actions and responses of its citizens, these processes also assume certain predictable behavioural patterns of society.

Every citizen needs to know that smart cities cannot function effectively and could end in wasted efforts if people are indisciplined and do not follow standard procedures.

Some hurdles
n Smart LED lights in public places: This allows street lights to be dynamically managed to automatically switch off or dim, based on traffic and time considerations. This presumes that all sensors of ambient light, traffic, people, clock, etc., are continuously maintained to be in a fully operational state.

n Smart electricity grids: To effectively monitor and control power consumption of consumers, the challenge is in monitoring, analysing and taking quick action on the indicators received from the system, such as consumption patterns, power losses, theft, etc.

This is where the human element is of utmost importance in the successful implementation of smart power grids. It is of no use having a smart power grid, if the people operating it take no action, even when there is an alarming situation reported by the system.

n Traffic Management: Smart cities depend on sensors for monitoring traffic density, parking, etc. Algorithms built into the smart traffic control system presume that traffic in the left, centre and right lanes would indeed stick to their direction of travel.

Automobiles parked haphazardly outside demarcated parking slots cause lower utilisation of space and also lead to ineffective use of parking sensors. Vehicles moving on wrong lanes on roads, cause chaotic assessment of traffic densities leading to the inability to logically manage traffic lights. 

n Waste management: This is a vital part of a smart city and begins with the reduction of waste generation. If generation of waste itself is reduced, half the problem is solved. A smart city would have smart waste bins with sensors to indicate when they are full. What is the use of a smart waste bin if the citizens throw waste everywhere outside the bin? The system naturally fails. Smart cities also would have mechanisms to process the segregated waste. Unless the citizen is aware, concerned and meticulous enough to segregate the waste at source, all initiatives for smart waste management would become economically unviable.
 
n Security Cameras: Another ubiquitous gadget found in a smart city is the security camera. These are typically placed at vantage points all over the city to detect security threats as well as monitor law and order.

These cameras are dependent on uninterrupted power supply to function effectively. If the city has periodic power failures, then the effectiveness of security cameras is compromised. An even worse scenario is the theft of the camera itself, which has been known to happen in many cases. Further, if a security breach is seen at the command centre, and this is not reported and followed up promptly, the whole purpose is lost.

By the same reasoning, if accident victims are not provided prompt assistance by people around the victim, if the ambulance is not called immediately, it accounts for failures in the smart city system. Therefore, the human factor is equally important in ensuring the effectiveness of a smart city.

It is when the citizens of a smart city cooperate and assist in local governance, directly and indirectly, that they can be truly deserving of a ‘Smart City’.

(The author is the Founder and MD of Radel Group and Chief Mentor of Drona)
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