By Anuj Puri
While a lot is being discussed and written on Smart Cities, these discussions tend to focus on lofty urban planning perspectives and complicated economic hypotheses. This has resulted in Smart Cities becoming something of an unfathomable doctrine rather than something that makes sense to Mr. Everyman.
There are some fundamental questions that people have been asking about Smart Cities, and they need to be answered.
- Which are the services that a smart city will offer which are not available in ‘normal’ cities? Are we just talking of township level services provided at the level of an entire city, or is there something more that citizens of Smart Cities can look forward to?
The objective of Indian government’s Smart Cities initiative is to improve the quality of urban living for all residents with the use of smart technologies. That said, the transformation from a ‘normal’ city to a ‘smart city’ is more evolution than revolution. A smart city is different than normal cities in terms of liveability, workability and sustainability. The information and communications technology (ICT) component used in infrastructure will do most of the heavy-lifting work such as improving infrastructure, environment and governance through data-driven systems.
Apart from highly advanced infrastructure and evolved residential experience, citizens of Smart Cities will also get advantages like:
- Overall digital connectivity, which means that broadband communications infrastructure and innovative services will combine to meet the needs of the Government and its employees as well as citizens and businesses
- Collective intelligence, which not only helps urban planners and increases the city’s competitiveness but also provides opportunities for active participation from citizens in processes that make Smart Cities smarter
- Open government thanks to open data.
- It has been said that Smart Cities will need smart citizens to be truly viable. What does this mean? Will only tech-savvy younger citizens be able to derive and enjoy all the benefits of a smart city, or can people without a technological background also benefit?
It would be a mistake to assume that only high-earning college graduates or tech-savvy younger citizens will receive the benefits in Smart Cities. The objective of this movement is to improve the quality of urban living for all residents, not just the young and rich. Nevertheless, Smart Cities will still have to ‘sell’ themselves to the common man, who will need to be made aware of how this transformation could improve their lives. With the deep penetration of smartphones into our society, getting citizens to understand the value of connectivity should not be too big a challenge.
- Given the level of services that will be offered in Smart Cities, will it in fact be more expensive to live in them? Will residents have to pay a big share of the implied expenses (as they do in townships) or will government subsidies take care of it?
To think that better services will come with additional costs is a mistake, since the smart initiatives employed in these cities will reduce many costs and improve productivity, in turn reducing the burden on their residents. Also, Smart City implementation will mostly come as a government subsidy and not as a loaded expense on residents.
- Is it easier and more viable to launch a ‘greenfield’ smart city in an untouched location from the ground up or convert an existing ‘brownfield’ city into a smart one?
The evolutionary transformation (an existing city’s development into a Smart City) will prove to be more affordable than revolutionary (Greenfield) development. However, revolutions inspire a lot more emotion and commitment than evolutionary changes. India needs more retrofitting of existing cities and infrastructure through the Smart Cities initiative, and not just development of Greenfield cities.
It would be easier to develop Greenfield Smart Cities, except for the aspect of land acquisition. The current controversies associated with land acquisition bill and the lack of an environment that enables land acquisition easily, seamlessly and without delays would be a serious bottleneck in positioning these Greenfield Smart Cities. The advantages for positioning Greenfield Smart Cities are numerous: proactive planning and design would mean that there are little or no difficulties related to upgradation and/or improvement of smart systems. Greenfield Smart Cities would also allow for better management and forecasting for budgetary expenses, and it would be easier to expand capacities, with minimal disruption of city operations, at a later stage.
- Will the formation of one smart city cause property prices to rise unnaturally in adjoining areas, even if these areas do not provide the quality of life that the smart city does? This has been observed happening with large integrated townships.
Areas with better infrastructure will fetch better real estate value due to higher demand and hence, in Smart Cities formation, land and property values will increase. The implementation of Smart Cities will have to be looked at in totality instead of a few locations in isolation.
- Given the pattern we have observed in all newly-emerging locations, will property rates in Smart Cities be driven up by speculative investment, or is there some kind of built-in factor which will prevent this?
If Smart City principles are implemented strictly, these property markets will address demands of the end-users and not speculative investors. The formation of housing development corporations and other authorities as part of smart governance will prevent speculation from these realty markets.
Anuj Puri, Chairman & Country Head, JLL India