Smart Cities or People!

It is the people who are going to make cities Smart!

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Indian government has started a mission to create large number of smart cities in India. It’s a great initiative and a forward-looking idea. Unless we plan something like this, with a strong initiative from governments, things will never work out. I look forward to see how these things work. I am writing this from the angle of devils’ advocate. Will such initiatives really work in India?

What are the major initiatives planned for smart cities? Water management, waste management, environment, planning of cities, buildings, IT and communications, Security and Safety, Smart power grids, clean energy.  This shows that none of these things were planned in a systematic manner before. Yes, there has been a terrific improvement all over India in all above mentioned areas but hopefully now it will be more systematic.

If we look at the meaning of Smart, it is defined in different ways. If it is about a person – clean, tidy, and well dressed. Or having or showing a quick-witted intelligence. SMART is a best practice framework for setting goals. A SMART goal should be specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused and time-bound. To me this last definition  fits the “Smart Cities Project” perfectly. The aims and goals have been set appropriately by using this definition. But to me a city is made up by its physical assets both new and historical, its water bodies, trees and environment. These to me are tangible things. Its culture, its people. Government agencies can plan for everything else but not for people, their way of thinking, their way of public behaviour, their way of self-discipline when in public or otherwise. These are the intangible assets of a city.

As I live in Pune, I will share whatever little I know about implementation of Smart City project in Pune. I think Pune is doing good in terms transport infrastructure. Newer, better roads and flyovers are planned to reduce congestion. A new ring road is also planned. New international airport is planned at Purandar near Pune. Pune Metro project is expected to be completed in next 3 to 4 years. Experience from all over India says that Metro projects are reasonably successful in every city in India. These projects have successfully made the change in the mindset of people who use them. People behave in disciplined manner while using Metro. Cleanliness is maintained, people don’t cross rail tracks! Why this is happening is for psychoanalysts to find. Why people’s behavior changes by just entering a different transportation system, at least I do not know.

Corporation is still struggling to implement BRTS system, it has serious deficiencies in execution though concept is good. Even after several years and a few trips to foreign jaunts by politicians to “understand” BRTS, best practices are not being implemented or thought of. What about people? The BRTS system has dedicated road lanes reserved for the buses. But Smart people, on their bikes and in their cars,  just barge into those lanes without fear. People are getting killed due to this.

Pune is lucky to have water bodies all around. Unless rains are very deficient, we never have water shortages. Are we smart enough using water correctly, the answer is no. We wash our cars using running water, when we wash clothes by hand, we keep water taps running, under the name of fresh water, we throw away drinking water stored in homes, everyday in the morning. When we water our plants in our balcony’s, we pour excess water that overflows, which in turn is dumped on cars parked under the balconies. My friend Vijay said that we are a dumb society, I slightly disagree. We are a “we care two hoots society”! We can be smart selectively. Corporation has drives, to remove illegal encroachments by hawkers. Even in the days when there were no cell phones, the corporation officers bribed by hawkers, would inform hawkers in advance of the drive and very few hawkers would be caught or evicted. They would be back at the same place next day. Aren’t we smart?

Smart power grids, clean energy, smart planning is possible because there will not be much people interaction. Smart signals can help smoothen the traffic, provided we follow the signals. We are smart people, if we have a blocked road ahead of us, then two- wheeler users go on foot paths and rush ahead! Really smart! This morning I  saw an interesting thing. A lady was being trained on a car owned by a Motor Training School. The instructor was sitting next to her. They reached a traffic signal and the signal was Red, the lady was slowing down but the instructor told her to drive through. So much for the training schools! These schools supposedly teach people to drive the car. It was 7.30 in the morning; I waited to see how many people follow signals. 95% jumped the signals. This is smartness, why waste time in the morning when there is no traffic?

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Some good results are already seen, there are smart bill boards everywhere informing public that we are a smart city. Is it? But nobody has told me. There is a cycle sharing application where authorities have made cycles available to people. These have electronic locks. These can be used and money is paid by using an app on cell phone. Payment is done by using PayTm. In last three months, Pune has shown that 3,00,000 trips have been taken by people. The idea behind this is to encourage last mile usage of fuel less systems, like cycles. It is definitely encouraging.

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Compared to cities in India, most cities in developed world are “smart cities”. Why is this so? It is because people are sensible, they need not be smart. People are trained to follow rules and discipline right from childhood. In my previous blog, I had written about “I don’t care” attitude we have, when it comes to public behavior. We do not take cleanliness and discipline seriously. In cleanliness, Pune is much ahead of many cities in India. When we talk of clean city, it is not about roads being cleaned every day.  Dumping garbage on roads and then sweeping and putting in dumpsters is what we do today. Instead, people should put their garbage in dumpsters, directly. That is smart!

Friends, government is doing its job by creating great infrastructure by planning and proposing systematic things for smart cities, to me this is the tangible side of any city; but unless we contribute by being proactive, self-disciplined and smart, unless we ride the crest of these intangibles, our cities will never become “Smart Cities”! It is the intangibles, that are going to make Cities Smart!