View from India: Smart cities - planning for utopia

We’ve never seen Utopia, but we dream of this hypothetical perfect place to be in. As our future cities are planned, we hope that they will be somewhere close to utopian habitats, while existing ones will be retrofitted to harmoniously join the utopian brigade. Technology will join the dots.

When cities are being laid out, it requires both strategic planning and a sensitive outlook. While it’s important to retain the cultural ethos of the place in a sensitive manner, it’s also necessary to strategically design the layout, taking into account parameters like density of population, road networks with parking and walkways, and last-mile users. These are among the basic essentials of planned urbanisation required to make cities habitable.

“Urban planning can become successful provided cities are designed for its people. It’s also important to preserve the ecosystem as well as create economic opportunities,” said Srinivas M Rao, principal (urban planner) at Kritzinger+Rao Inc, addressing the audience at the CII Smart Mobility Conference.

As against this backdrop, appropriately, the Government of India (GoI) has embarked on the Smart Cities Initiative. These cities will be energy efficient and provide habitable infrastructure using technology, apart from generating local employment and improving the health and living conditions of the people. GoI has chalked out places like Tirupati, Kakinada, Visakhapatnam and Amaravati in the state of Andhra Pradesh under its Smart Cities initiative.

Taking a cue from the national government’s initiative, the Government of Andhra Pradesh (GoAP) has envisaged developing an additional 13 Smart Cities through an integrated infrastructure development. “GoAP aims to promote a pan-city development lifecycle approach. The financial plan for these 13 Smart Cities will open out channels of capital investments for internal and external sources. A hybrid model, the lifecycle project will span over 10-15 years,” added Prakash Gaur, chief executive officer Andhra Pradesh Urban Infrastructure Asset Management Ltd. The scheme will include “safe pedestrian movement, signalised junctions, dedicated designated public spaces and E-bike sharing,” he said. GoAP is in talks with private bike operators to roll out their bikes in Ongole in the Prakasam District of AP. 

Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu, is a significant cultural, economic and educational centre in India, but with rapid urbanisation Chennai has begun to face issues related to urban management. Though there are multi-modal public transits, the inner city traffic tends to clog the roads and junctions during peak office hours, which understandably have become a matter of concern for its people. The Greater Chennai Corporation, the civic body that governs the city, has roped in Chennai Smart City Limited (CSCL) to jointly look at integrated solutions for the transport and traffic challenges. Located on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, Chennai’s public spaces and road network in certain localities are being retrofitted.

CSCL, an urban transportation infrastructure planning company, is focusing on the design and optimisation of city transport management services, public bus transportation systems and traffic management services. “Parking management is essential and we need to ensure that vehicles are not parked on footpaths, which are meant for walkers. Then we need to look at footpath vendors: their space needs to be balanced with that of pedestrian movement,” highlighted Raj Cherubal, CEO, Chennai Smart City Company Ltd.  

Coming to parking management, a move has been made in this direction as yellow lines are being laid out to demarcate 12,000 parking slots in various localities in Chennai. With camera surveillance, the paid parking slots will soon be made available through electronic payment. “Parking is a commodity, so if you don’t price it, people won’t take it seriously,” he argued.

CSCL has taken a 360-degree approach towards vehicle management. The company has also opened out vistas for people to move around on bicycles. Around 5,000 bicycles are being made available in 500 locations, complete with GPS tracking, geo-fencing and anti-locking system. E-wallet payment options will be made available. “Chennai has 385 junctions, and this is where it’s crucial to monitor vehicle movement,” he observed. Cherubal’s innovation threshold has widened as he is working on outlining traffic lines for the public buses to move around the city. On the anvil is a smartcard project, which will be used for parking, cycle sharing and traffic lines.

On its part, Fraunhofer India, a leading applied research lab, has entered into memorandum of understanding with Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation (CCMC) to setup a Smart City Innovation Lab. The effort is to address mobility-related challenges in Coimbatore. “We plan to bring in the auto-trams that operate in Germany, as well as creating bicycle lanes and user-friendly footpaths,” explained Anandi Iyer, director Fraunhofer India. Wastewater management will be channelled to proper use through a Water Competence Centre described as Smart Water Future India.

Fraunhofer India has also entered into cooperation with Cochin Smart Missions Ltd to set up a ‘Smart City Innovation Lab’, to transform Cochin into a Smart City through sustainable solutions. “When we look at urban spaces, cities don’t just require individual modular solutions, but a system-based multi-stakeholder approach,” Iyer commented.

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