With the second round of >13 cities making it to the Centre’s list , there are now 33 urban agglomerations that have made a successful bid to become “smart cities”. The idea of city managers accepting a ‘challenge’ to make specific ‘smart’ proposals is being followed in several countries at different levels of development. Cities in the developed world are focussed on self-driving cars, electric vehicles and smart grids, while those in India are yet to meaningfully address basic issues such as walkability, public transport, waste management and pollution. This was evident in the latest round, for instance, with the Lucknow municipal administration, which made the best-rated bid, finding that 58 per cent of residents who took part in its online survey cited traffic and transport as their top priority, with 24 per cent highlighting solid waste management. Unsurprisingly, this is also representative of the national story. City administrations have done a poor job of gathering data available from multiple sources and analysing them to make informed decisions on civic services. A lot of new information about what people do is now available from commercial services that use mobile phone applications, such as taxi companies, and the anonymised data with them can aid planning.
Cities that have successfully bid for Central seed funding face the real challenge of attracting private partners to raise the massive resources needed. The >20 cities chosen in the first round are expected to spend Rs.48,063 crore on projects, and the 13 in the second round, Rs.30,229 crore. >Intelligent parking could be one way to mobilise funds and cut congestion. By integrating IT, motorists could be guided to available parking spaces in various locations in a city, using real-time information. Over time, it would be possible to even predict the availability of parking spaces based on usage patterns. A smart city should look at robust IT connectivity and digitalisation. At the consumer end, however, few cities have achieved this. They have not integrated the databases of their service agencies for water, transport, property and energy, and are therefore unable to serve citizens online. This is the low-hanging fruit of civic smartness waiting to be picked, and it should be mandatory for all million-population cities to do so in a time-bound manner. The benefit of investment in urban regions is bound to increase property values, and governments should tap into the surplus to fund more programmes, especially affordable housing. All cities can become smart, if the Urban Development Ministry makes available off-the-shelf open source technology solutions for management. In the smart world, sharing rules. And governments should set the pace.