What is our idea of a ‘Smart City’?

How will a picture of a smart city look like? Is it the picture of a huge gated community that facilitates everything within it and is cut-off from rest of the world?! Or do people envision a scenario where everyone seamlessly travels and everything is operated at the touch of a button?! Will we make the mistake of spending huge funds just on improving and building new hardware for the city? Won’t the aspirations of people for a better quality of life, easier, hassle free commute and the ‘livability’ aspect in a evolving city be considered at all?

The idea of a smart city is to combine the strength of technology to give us the most cost effective solution. The power of IT has to be harnessed to bring about better, low cost, efficient solutions to the problems identified by the cities themselves. Individuals cities should discuss with its people about the changes that are mandatory in making their day-to-day life more valuable, less stressful and the basic necessities of life more accessible.

Ricky Burdett, Professor of Cities & Urban studies, London School of Economics states that,“The smart city is a system that grows in an intelligent way, is quite compact, it doesn’t have sprawl, in terms of economic development. Smart means something different. It means thinking that the city is going to grow, is not going to waste the resources in the future. A smart city must not have negative effects on environment.” Public heads of departments should strive to make it both environmentally and socially more sustainable.

For a common man, a smart city must be able to address the quality of life. At its basic level it must be able to meet the aspirations of its people where the younger generation receives good quality education and access for jobs. A key part of smart city is a actively engaged community. They also have to find new sources of food, alternate sources of fuel and holistic healing medicine in the near future.

Growing up in India and having spent my entire childhood commuting to school in overly crowded public transportations; I used to always think why different modes of transportation don’t have their separate lanes to travel? A bus lane where only buses run at high speeds, a car lane, a bike lane and a pavement for pedestrians to walk. I mean how difficult it is to build one when we already have lanes on the roads?! Why does everything and everyone have to move at the same pace and wait just because a bus has to stop at the bus-stand?! A solution to this problem was addressed and successfully implemented in Bogota, Columbia by its mayor, Enrique Penalosa where he designed separate bus lanes, car lanes, bike lanes and pavements for pedestrians!

One of my favorite quotes on how an advanced nation or a developed country must be perceived is also given by Enrique Penalosa, Former Mayor of Bogota, Columbia. “Advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars; but rather where even the rich use the public transport or bicycles.” Highways and huge parking lots are often presented as pictures of advancement of a city. Nobody cares for the construction and necessity of a sidewalk. We humans are pedestrians by nature.

I think every upcoming smart city must take advantage of the Computer simulation technology that is used to develop useful models such as the Wind-flow model of a city/town, Shadow Analysis of yet-to-be built buildings, Solar irradiance in a town and much more.

A Wind-flow model can be used to simulate the flow of wind in a city and thus, adjust the width, height and alienation of buildings to increase the flow of wind in a city. A Shadow Analysis model is a very useful tool for architects and planners to decide on the placement of parks, playgrounds, day-care centers, outdoor dining areas etc so that people especially kids can enjoy staying outdoors most of the day. Likewise, solar irradiance gives information on how much sunlight falls in a city and on buildings. Roof gardens can be planted over buildings with moderate sunlight and solar panels can be placed over roof-tops with excellent sunshine throughout the day. Thus, right from the Planning stage architects and builders can ensure the success of a smart city by taking advantage of computer simulation. Further, we can even lay sensors around the city that pick up the much needed data on humidity levels, heat exposure, wind-flow & shadow patterns and feed them into computer systems to validate the assumptions and make it more accurate.

Hence, a smart city must not only be aesthetically designed but also be functional over time.

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