Hype or Reality?
Smart City Mission Program was launched by PM Narendra Modi on 25th June 2015. Initial entitlement was for hundred cities across India to be developed under smart city Mission program. The Modi government decided to undertake the endeavour of developing smart cites, aiming at improving the urban efficiency and sustainability as well as the wellbeing of its urban residents.
The Srinagar Smart City project was approved in round 3 challenge held in April 2017. The Srinagar Smart City Ltd (SSCL), an SPV (Special purpose Vehicle) was subsequently constituted. Under this SPV the major development in Srinagar City is envisaged within the old city areas, which is to be taken up via “citizen engagements” and “alignment of purpose” of various government departments.
Also the PAN city development programmes will have major ICT (information and communication technology) interventions, which would include solid waste management and smart multi model mobility projects.
Srinagar Smart City
Cities are urban places where people live and work together. In this context Srinagar city should be understood as a Socio-technical system. Srinagar City can further be understood through different dimensions; it can be an economic system, where jobs and wealth can be generated by concentration of people and businesses. Additionally the migration of rural populace to urban Srinagar over last three decades has resulted in concentration of knowledge as well as in diversity of specializations. This has brought markets closer and resulted in trade and sharing of knowledge and productivity. For the Kashmir province, Srinagar city is emerging as the economic powerhouse of valley. The city of Srinagar also has social diversity, a way of life with separate cultural activities, traditions and more. The city also has its share of political system, where again different actors interact.
The above aspects are usually found in every city embodied by their local governments and different political actors, such as citizens and trade unions federations. Lastly, Srinagar city also has a technological system, such as infrastructure (flyovers, bridges, roads, buildings etc.) All these ways of viewing the city are true but do all these systems interact with each other? A Smart city is an endeavour taken up to make these sub-systems within a city to interact with each other and improve the living index of the citizens of the city.
Traditionally, cities have two main layers, the infrastructure layer and the service layer. The ‘urban infrastructure’ is what enables its citizens to live and work together. Due to the complexity, it is therefore most accurate to have a systematic view of the city. This means that ‘feedback loops’ and ‘Path dependent’ decisions have to be defined. The smart city should have certain performances which would characterize it in terms of efficiency, resilience and sustainability. A possible answer to this challenge is “digitization” and this is where smart cities concept comes into play.
Implementation of Srinagar Smart City:
The concept of turning Srinagar into a smart city is in its infancy and would counter the teething issues as and when any head way is made. The ‘socio-technical’ spectrum of Srinagar city should be identified in transition towards smart city by the ‘smart city Managers and policy makers’. The socio-technical visions should interact in an urban environment. The various subsystems or the executing agencies within Srinagar city should relate to each other for this common cause. As such managing the transition to a smart city requires a holistic approach, a long term perspective and flexibility to ensure its success.
The characteristic of socio-technical systems is complex to manage. The key element of this system would be ‘feedback loops’ within various executing agencies or subsystems within Srinagar and perhaps a formation of a ‘coordination committee’ comprising of members representing various government line departments. This could act as nodal committee for deliverance. Example, the introduction of electric buses will not only impact the transport infrastructure, it would also impact the demand of electricity in Srinagar city, thus creating a feedback loop across both transportation and energy subsystems.
The ‘city advisory forum’ constituted within a smart city is a social feedback loop catering to economic and political dimensions. The interdependency within various sub-systems calls for adopting a holistic and multi-disciplinary approach while managing the transition process. Managers and policymakers have to consider the technological, political, social, economic, institutional and environmental dimensions in an integrated fashion and not in isolation from each other. At present no linear relationship exists between various sub-systems or line departments of Srinagar city, hence, we have to consciously take initiatives under Srinagar smart city mission that should not cause any adverse and unforeseeable situation that would distort the performance of existing services at any level. All the Managers and policymakers of Srinagar smart city should strive to keep all options available to avoid a lock into a policy that might prove to be a failure in the future. The three key elements of smart city transition would be a holistic approach, a long term perspective and keep as much flexibility as possible to avoid problems brought forth by the irreversible nature of some changes.
Smart City Transition Challenges:
The urban managers and policy makers of Srinagar Smart city mission have to face technological, financial, political, social and environmental challenges. The solutions proposed after any smart intervention on the infrastructural level or the service level should develop smart corridors and transit services that run through them, which will provide last mile connections between the city centres where the jobs and businesses are concentrated to the areas where the city work force lives. Citizens have to be connected to jobs, businesses, education and health care centres via the smart corridors envisaged. Thus helping improve the overall welfare of the citizens of the Srinagar city
The inherit challenge in particular is the smart mobility within Srinagar city. The plan is to use ICT (Information and communication technology) for electronic sign boards and sensors which will integrate data and information across multiple transport modes. The use of city electric buses along with digital technology would manage road elements like traffic signals, traffic congestion and city pollution. The last mile connections will be accomplished with the deployment of electric busses and intelligent traffic management systems that would help circulate vehicles on fixed routes connecting citizens of Srinagar city to major office areas and business hubs which are otherwise currently underserved.
The Srinagar smart city vision can be only achieved by the coordination of various public and private actors and ensuring interoperability between different projects under smart city mission. To establish series of Public private partnerships (PPP) in Srinagar city will be a huge challenge but best practices from other smart cities of India can be incorporated in our own transition.
The author is a consultant with Srinagar Smart City Ltd