BY RIZWAN ALAM KHAN
United Nations (UN) expects rapid growth of urban population globally by 2050. While the global population will increase from 7 billion to 10 billion, half of the population will be living in cities.
The world is an unparalleled level of urbanization which leaves us with the fact that 60%-80% of the world’s energy production will be consumed by cities alone. The accelerating growth of urbanization and the disproportionate completion of physical and social resources are unsustainable and worrisome.
A city like Srinagar which has a towering history of different cultures which symbolizes the genesis, evolution and assent of a great civilization the nation should be proud of, converting it to a Smart City is not only the need of the hour but a responsibility that has been long overdue.
A smart city is however perceived to be a harmonic blend of history with character, heritage, aesthetics, architecture, e-bricks, economy, environment and a modern lifestyle.
While the term Smart City has been into existence since 1990’s , the whole trend has started just years ago only when the organizations and the governments have realized that if the quality of life for the occupants has to enhance it can only be done by blending in the elements of both human factors and technology to work simultaneously to ensure that change becomes inevitable and to the benefit of the people.
A smart city in principle is designed to optimize residents’ quality of life by leveraging technology and integrating several essential functions like managing citizens data, intelligent transportation, public safety and security among others.
Primarily, Smart City deployments come with multiple features and state of the art technology (ICT implementations) and comprise of diverse ecosystems of technology providers which help in shaping the cities of the future. To summarize it all, the whole soul of the smart cities is driven by the IoT (Internet of Things).
However, the advancement of the Smart Cities has not been just limited to sustainable future only but with the new innovations being put forth and built around smart city framework which includes eco-city, eco-town, eco-village and last but not the least aerotropolis- which opens a totally different gateway for the futuristic logistical and commercial operations centered around airports.
A Strategic Plan- Turning Srinagar into a Smart City
Srinagar is a great example of a ‘living lab’ for a Smart City where innovation meets excellence to find solutions to the city’s problems whilst being tested and tweaked in real time and with real citizens and user engagements.
It challenges businesses, residents, the municipality and knowledge institutions to suggest and apply innovative ideas and solutions to urban issues.
Since 2021 Srinagar Smart City has grown into a fully functional platform comprising of hundreds of partners who are actively involved in numerous projects such as restoration of Lal Chowk, Jehlum River Front, finding strategic solutions to congested roads for hassle free traffic movement, beautification of Dal Lake and much more.
By encouraging innovation, facilitating engagement with disruptive technologies, promoting efficient and effective services and acting as an advocacy group for open-data, open government principles, Srinagar Smart City platform connects all of the city’s stakeholders through smart collaborations by bringing them together with the sole purpose of developing and implementing shared ideas and solutions for the benefit of the city.
Breaking The Silos
Ever since I was born most of the works that one would witness in the city were mostly refurbishments and repairs of the existing infrastructure which would carry on for some months, make good the wear and tear of the infrastructure, lay pipes and cables without proper planning and so on, the same would have to be repeated almost every year considering the harsh winter we experience.
Currently, the complete remodelling of the city’s main attractions not only looks aesthetically pleasing to the eye but also adds to the longevity of the new infrastructure thus increasing the life cycle cost of the assets.
The remodelling and restructure of the city’s main hubs also paved a way for major technological advancements vis-a-vis Underground Cabling, efficient drainage, automated sensors that can monitor any system from a remote location. The out of the box solution to make such a change in the heart of Srinagar can only be a testament to the commitment and efficient work programs that are being carried out.
As per the Energy Statistics India Report 2022, J&K has the second highest potential of harnessing renewable Solar Energy in India which accounts for over l.11 lakh MW’s of solar energy. However, currently the UT is generating only 20.75MW’s of installed capacity of grid-interaction renewable solar energy. The goal of reducing the carbon footprint is realistic considering the potential of the solar energy and the applications in various sectors such as telecom towers, Solar Thermal Systems on government buildings and large establishments, use of photovoltaic systems in homes & offices which are recognized globally by renowned Green Building Councils for built environments such as USGBC, BREEAM, WELL, ESTIDAMA and more.
The Gordian Knots
Roads are considered as a lifeline of any country or a city and in Srinagar the bone of contention has always been the ever-existing roads and heavy influx of new and old vehicles plying on them.
The irony is that both are complimentary to each other and out of the box solutions are necessary from both the government and the people residing in Srinagar.
A congested under construction road during peak hours can be avoided by taking an alternative route or by implementing more innovative and sustainable solutions such as carpooling, use of bicycles or even a walk by foot (to nearer destinations). These solutions can be temporarily adapted till the works are completed. This will not only save time and energy, but it will also expose people to the idea of sustainable travelling which is a common practice in many Gulf and European nations.
Another intriguing issue that has been a nightmare for both the office bearers and the common people is the defunct or semi-functional drainage network across the Srinagar city.
The major problem is the non-availability of separate sewer and storm water networks. If unsolved, unfortunately, the problem of water loggings and overflown drains will persist. Interestingly, when we talk about drainage networks the first thing that comes to the mind is just the drainage network that exists, however, it is not the case.
In a Smart City the drainage network is not limited to the piping and pumping stations only or using the advanced sensors for monitoring the flow rates, on the contrary the drainage network is the integrated approach of the planning teams who work in parallel with the designers of piping systems, pumping stations and all associated service providers and assets that affect the system as a whole which includes waste segregation at source, proper banking of roads, proper installation of manholes and sand traps and also taking into consideration the water tables in that particular area using geo-technical studies. Once all these parameters are taken into consideration, the risk of failure reduces considerably too.
What is fascinating is that there have been numerous sustainable solutions to the issues caused by the incandescent rains in European Countries such as utilization of rainwater for fire-fighting purpose, collection of rainwater from rooftops for irrigation or sanitary purposes and many more which has a great potential in Srinagar as well.
The Genie in the Bottle
While working on some of the iconic and prestigious Smart City Projects like Masdar City, Musheireb, KAFD, NEOM and others over the past decade the challenge has never been building the city or operating it, it has always been maintaining it and this is a burden that must be shared by both the developer (organizations) and the end users (people). Sustainable use of resources, preserving assets, smart use of the infrastructure are the fundamentals for optimal functioning of a city. In construction world the curse of the Smart City can only be broken when people accept change and help in preserving and utilizing the resources optimally which are there to be enjoyed by the generations to come.
The Silver Lining
Hope - while looking at the aggressive and the can-do attitude of the current stakeholders and the progress made on ground under the banner of Srinagar Smart City, the force of change is inevitable. Works are being planned and executed strategically with never seen before planning. However, the health and safety of the workers and the commuters needs to be revisited. The approach seems to be optimistic, but a lot needs to be done & people need to accept this change wholeheartedly, then and only then the dream of turning our Srinagar City into a sustainable Smart City can be realized by us and our generations to come.
Rizwan Alam Khan (Author) is working as a Project Director in a Fortune 200 Company and a SME on Giga-Projects and Smart Cities globally for over a decade, views expressed are personal. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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