What is a Smart City?

While the definition of a smart city continues to veer towards the ambiguous, we at Quantta believe in defining it as the process by which data and analytics are extensively used to optimize living conditions for inhabitants of any city. Let me elaborate.

Over the last ten years, the digital world has sprung out of the box (our computers) and gradually but surely embraced everything around it. An early and popular manifestation of this was the change in your phone. It began to share data from and to computer systems, became location aware, and went on to even monitoring your heart rate, blood pressure etc. In the next wave, similar capabilities, will be extended to the entire city makes the city intelligent.

In our opinion for a city to be intelligent, at the very least, its population, healthcare and land records, basic infrastructure that provides water, power, gas, sanitation and transportation systems must be digital. Once digitized, the next step would be for sensors to understand how people interact with these physical facilities and intelligently respond and optimize services to provide the best possible service standards. This makes a city smart.

The benefits of a city with an intelligent grid, connected sensors, a central pool of data and analytical capability would be enormous. The city would know when and where its citizens [anonymously of course] travel within the city. It could optimize traffic and local transportation to meet these requirements. Land records once digitized would ensure that ownership would be more clearly established and thereby reduce litigation. Taxes would obviously be paid on land and property since tracking non-payment would be easy. Healthcare would improve, as the city would understand where diseases occur, to whom and be able to link this to geo-physical reasons [say a water body that has not been cleaned] and isolate the cause of the disease. With the digitization of basic amenities such as water, gas and power, outages could be quickly detected and resolved. Planning the future needs for basic infrastructure would be simplified since the city could understand the areas in which the city is expanding and the rate at which it is expanding and build capacity in advance. Let us say a new water distribution project has been implemented in the city of Bangalore. The impact of this new water project has to be understood spatially in a digital format. This will allow decision makers to quickly connect this data to other data points such as number of citizens living in the impact zone or number of business establishments that require water and measure the improvement of water availability per capita.

The quest to create smart cities has global support. For instance – in the city of Masdar, near Abu Dhabi, the brainchild of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and architected by Norman Foster, the sun’s power is harvested via concentrating mirrors in an array outside the city. In other cities, an energy grid is being created to harness power as close to the source of consumption as possible including recycling of waste from domestic and industrial sources. The city of New York rewards buildings that create green roofs because of an initiative by Mayor Bloomberg who provided a tax rebate.

India’s quest to build smart cities is a challenging task. With even basic land records not completely digitalized in cities and Aadhar or its equivalent still to complete records for all citizens, leave alone infrastructure being digitized or on sensors, India has a long way before it can boast of having digitally smart cities. With over 590 million people who will live in urban cities in India by 2030[1], there is an urgent need to improve the quality of life in our cities. A study done by Janagraha rating the cities in India showed that we compare poorly to cities such as New York or London, that are considered global standards for cities. We believe India’s roadmap for smarter cities should start by the creation of a set of metrics that can measure the efficiency with which are cities are run and create competition among the cities using these metrics. This will create the framework to reward cities to innovate and create smarter cities. Also, this will provide the Government the framework to incentivize and reward cities in their effort to convert themselves into smart cities.