By 2050, about 70% of the global population will be living in cities, and India is no exception. The country needs about 500 new cities to accommodate the influx into its urban regions. In this context, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious $30 billion 100 Smart Cities Mission has raised great expectations. However, five years through there has been no significant improvements in this space (with the exceptions of cities such as Surat and Pune, which implemented some of the citizen-friendly approaches). This suggests that there’s still a long way to go.
In a recent interaction, Dominique Bonte, VP at ABI Research said that it’s time for smart cities to embrace new technologies and approaches to combat a growing list of challenges. Quoting a recent whitepaper by ABI Research, Ways Smart Cities Are Getting Smarter, he said, while smart city tech investments will reach over $61 billion globally in 2026, most of the expenditure will be for incremental improvements.
Cities have faced challenges like congestion, pollution, and safety for decades, and are already putting in place a strategy to combat them. While they continue to face these traditional issues, new threats such as cyberattacks, climate change, and other emerging problems are mounting. “In fact, it is an illusion to believe that adding just a shallow layer of IoT technology to legacy urban environments will allow cities to address the urban challenges of the future, ranging from the provision of sustainable energy to the adoption of smart mobility and the construction of resilient cities,” Bonte said.
He also said that India’s problems in developing smart, resilient cities are even unique. The key problem is while globally, a smart city is built on a communication network that collects data from smart devices and sensors embedded in roadways, power grids, buildings and other assets to create efficient services, cities selected under India’s Smart Cities Mission are still grappling with basic infrastructure. For example, until now, only 2% of the fund is allocated towards solid waste management, which is a critical issue. Other areas such as social sector, smart grid and storm-water drainage are also low on priority.
Moreover, Bonte noted that the lack of coordination between various government agencies and project execution is another area of concern. In some areas, Smart Cities Missions have created a parallel mechanism of governance instead of strengthening local governing bodies.
There is also little attempt being made to create awareness among citizens about the need for smart cities. Some of these smart cities are being built from the ground up, on land currently owned by villagers who complain that the project is being thrust on them without considering their requirements. Bonte pointed out that the government should urgently initiate systemic reforms if it wants to make Indian cities future-ready.
Smart city should also work towards leveraging how public space is used The most obvious example is the decommissioning and repurposing of parking lots and buildings in cities enjoying high levels of car-sharing adoption.
“Bolder, more holistic, cross-vertical, and closed-loop approaches are required to optimize and maximize the potential of available resources and services. This can only be done by leveraging a range of very advanced technologies including, urban modeling and digital twins, AI and automation, demand-response software, edge/cloud platforms, and generative design,” he said.
Towards this end, ABI Research highlighted some of the key considerations to create smart, resilient cities of the future:
- Cross-vertical cooperation between departments
- End-to-end management and leadership around key areas like resilience
- In-depth understanding of advanced technologies and their life cycles
- Close cooperation with the technology vendor ecosystem
- Tap into new technology funding mechanisms
- Clear vision and long-term strategy for where to take their city in the next 20 years,
- Agility to tackle current issues through quick wins
Finally, commitment from the State governments and governance reform at all levels of government is required to make it a success, he says summing it all up.