Green concerns of Smart Cities

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By Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh

 

Last month I attended a workshop on the law curriculum for the business schools held at IIE, Guwahati. It was organised by IIM, Kashipur and sponsored by World Bank. It was quite hearty to know that the IIMs are trying to produce green MBAs, who will be eco-unfriendly and not be too unscrupulous. This was a good programme as these green MBAs will check the ecologically unfriendly and unsustainable approaches of the corporate world. Of course we need the corporate world to develop our cities but we also need them to maintain their social responsibilities. We all expressed a lot of expectations from these green MBAs.

Talking of green,now we all agree that another name of green is eco-friendly. So when we discuss cities and development, certainly and automatically the question of greenness comes, because we have had experiences of Indian cities, large, congested, dirty and polluted, almost completely devoid of greens. Both beauty and ugliness are of giant size. Our cities are sick cities, ailing urban system, where commuting is so hazardous, there are ques for any facility miles long, you have to make rounds and rounds in search of parking slot, crimes are so numerous, they are hunting grounds of frauds. People coming and encroaching the vacant and public spaces, ultimately, there is no space for the greens and free air. Later, some philanthropic regime would regularise such encroachments leaving no scope for further environmental improvement. So, when the talk of smart cities are doing rounds, naturally the question comes, can our Smart Cities be Green Cities?If we have talk of Green Cities now, the developers and politicians may not be too conscious, so citizens have to be conscious, our electronics and IT cities cannot be smart without being green and shall not a healthy place to live, ultimately the Smart City shall not be sustainable, so it has to be Green Smart City.

The prefix smart in smart city is an euphemism for intelligent and extensive application of IT in all aspects of public utility and management. A Wikipedia definition says that smart city uses digital technology to enhance the quality and performance of urban services. So, smart cities are also called digital cities, intelligent city etc. But, now the definition is expanded to include the sustainability, environment and health concerns. In that line, solutions for economic and environmental sustainability, e-governance, security, energy, waste and water management and healthcare will be at the core of India’s smart cities.IT shall be used for online governance, to make it citizen friendly, to save time and money, being online, the system becomes transparent with more accountability. The government offices are now developing steps for ease of business, where there shall online and mobile application for intimating the customers and clients on time bound basis and following standard operating practices. The smart cities shall also have IT application for crime control by having digitised facial recognition and DNA profiling database, digital parking by digital parking metres by auto informing the car driver through mobile application about space availability. The unique identity of cities on its economic and cultural activity will be digital and online so that interested people can locate city of their interests precisely.You know, the IT connectivity need to be really good, the frequent breakdown in link we experience in India (Manipur is notorious for that) will not be in the spirit of smart cities. In Seoul and other South Korean cities, free wi-fi connection is found everywhere, so e governance is not a tough proposition.

As we can see from the primary concept, the digital application is the mainstay of smart city. The concept had to be expanded to include other considerations. Though it appears that green concerns are supplementary,I can tell that, the non IT segment is also equally important. So, let me come to non IT section of smart cities. In smart cities, the solid waste is to be disposed not by municipal trucks, but by a network of underground pneumatic pipes. There shall be special transport facility run by fuel cells and solar cells and last mile Para transport connectivity is to be good so that more of CTF (common transport facility) are used without any inconvenience. But more interesting part is the green section, the smart cities shall be preserving and developing more open spaces around cities with parks, playgrounds and recreational centres to reduce urban heat, green areas with walkable localities for pedestrians with reduced pollution and congestion and enhanced security. There shall also be pedestrian network in addition to a good network of roads to be used by pedestrians and cyclists (Stockholm have parallel cycle track all along the vehicular road). It also shall be desirable to locate supermarkets and other retailers away from city hearts to reduce the pressure of space with dedicated CTF. This is already done in many European cities.

The green concerns of the concept of smart city seems to be still a shade inadequate, how much land is to be dedicated for environmental concerns is to be scientifically modelled and worked out. I would like to suggest a rule of thumb that a third of city should be dedicated for the greenery and such facilities. Thousands of Indian towns and urban conglomerates, are under severe pressure and none of the smart city concerns have been addressed, under Indian condition it could be too much to expect also except in some planned cities like Chandigarh (and adjoining Panchkula) and Gandhinagar, where there are some elements, but not up to a reasonable semblance. So when we plan smart cities (smart cities have to be very precisely planned), the green component should be taken as important as the power or drainage requirement, the extent and distribution of green lung are to be well planned so that green concerns are addresses. It is a noble concept, hats off to the PM for the bold initiative, because only one or two cities in the world have made reasonable attempts. But, it is going to be a big challenge considering the present condition of nominated cities, some of which are already heavily congested and populous like New Delhi, Chennai, Lucknow, Kanpur, Kolkata, Jaipur, Vishakhapatnam etc. Imphal is also a city selected for that.At national level, it is in mission mode, Smart City Mission, with a target of 100 cities for the first phase. Can these cities release extra land required for tree line between the vehicular and pedestrian paths, shall the residents agree to give enough setback between the roads and houseline to accommodate more tree rows. Some states like Maharashtra and Haryana are already committed to acquire adequate land. A smart city without smart greenery would not be citizen friendly; cities not citizen friendly can never be smart. The PM said, people have to be at the centre of any development initiative, the green initiatives are real concern for the people, the endeavour have to be to make our smart cities Green Cities, Green Smart Cities.

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