NIUA-CIDCO Smart City Lab gives comments on UNCSTD theme paper on Smart Cities

The Committee on Science Technology and Development (UNCSTD) under the Economic and Social Council of the UN has prepared a report on the theme ”Smart Cities and Infrastructure” that is based on the issues paper prepared by the CSTD secretariat, the findings of the panel, country case studies contributed by CSTD members and other relevant literature. This report presents key urbanisation trends and their links to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Siddharth Pandit, Chair, CIDCO Smart City Lab, gave comments on the theme paper as listed under-
Findings and Suggestions from the Indian Smart City Mission experience

    1. A national thrust on smart cities is highly effective in developing countries where local capacities to imagine, plan, budget, implement and monitor the building of a smart urban ecosystem are lacking. The role of the national governments in this case is to help build an understanding of the smart cities, develop a framework for the cities to engage in a competitive mode, handhold and mentor the weaker cities to jumpstart their understanding. More importantly, the national effort should also connect the dots
      • between global sustainable development goals (Goal 11) and local infrastructure (24 parameters in Indian Smart City Mission) and
      • between local needs and global funding, global knowledge bases and global innovation networks
    2. Given the cities are highly context specific and municipal capacities (in developing countries) are low, the smart city approach should integrate opportunities for regenerative learning and replicability. This would necessitate a hybrid approach of neighbourhood development and city wide initiatives. A combination of area based and pan city approaches as seen in the Indian Smart City Mission is an effort to address quick scaling up of successes while mitigating failures, two important characteristics of innovation.
    3. A strategic and integrated planning approach at the city level is the most congruent way to approach smart cities. Given that financial, physical and technological investments needed are large, cities would benefit by integrating and prioritising their investments through coordination of city and regional authorities. Where the local capacities to facilitate this are absent, alternative leaner coordination and implementation structures that complement the current administration can be explored. Such experiments with lean and innovation driven teams within a larger organisation setup have been quite successful in technology firms. The SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) mechanism suggested by the Smart Cities Mission will perform the integration and coordination functions while working with the current municipal administration.
    4. The integration should concurrently occur at all levels of a federal urban governance structure. While cities will benefit from SPV setups, the national urban convergence should occur in areas of mission objectives and funding. This is seen in India’s urban agenda that converges urban infrastructure (AMRUT), digital empowerment (Digital India), Skills Development (Make in India), sanitation and environment (Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan), housing (Housing For All) and even heritage conservation (HRIDAY). It is important to visualise the smart city movement as a coordination mission to integrate other national missions and that technology is an enabler towards this integration and not an end in itself. The smart city mission is a paradigm shift in reimagining and planning cities by integration at all levels through ICT and technology.
    5. Citizen partnerships and environmental sustainability should be at the core of any smart city planning. The citizen partnerships facilitate building wider communication channels with communities and thereby address any unknown risks, integrating inclusionary concerns within the larger city wide ICT adoptions and build trust through demonstration of quick replicable successes. The Smart City Mission has attempted successfully build within the cities, an appreciation for engaging in citizen consultation and partnerships. Equally important is the focus on environmental sustainability by focusing on resource management, reuse and optimisation in areas of water and energy.
    6. Inclusion will be an important priority within the smart city planning. While economic gaps cannot be overcome immediately, knowledge gaps can be closed using ICT. Safeguards have to be developed against ICT interventions that worsen inequality by making applications mobile friendly and language independent. Emphasis should be on ICT interventions for improving public transportation operations and non motorised transport. Citywide public access to wifi can also help to achieve digital inclusion. Inclusion within the smart city planning should address requirement of affordable housing, health, education, economic development and public spaces, as necessitated within the smart city mission. Finally the definition of inclusion should be widened to encompass women, children, senior citizens, physically challenged, migrants, informal livelihood workers, alternative gender, lower income households, single working women and environmentally vulnerable populations.
    7. Urban planning and urban innovation under the smart cities movement will require highly skilled professionals in the areas of urban planning, financial management, urban design, built and information architecture, data visualisation and analysis and technological innovations. An added advantage of such an innovation ecosystem is that the skills built are not local and therefore have a national and global demand. Therefore tapping into global partnerships and knowledge networks is an essential step to quickly build up these skills within local municipal cadres and the local population. The national smart city mission currently has partnerships with governments, academia, multilateral organisations and think tanks globally to scale up the necessary skills for smart city development.