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In the shadow of India’s historic palaces and ancient bazaars, a new kind of monument is rising: The smart city. India's ambitious journey towards urban development, fueled by cutting-edge technology, is transforming age-old city landscapes into digital hubs equipped to handle the 21st century's demands. The surge of technology in urban planning, from Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to smart grids, is not merely an addition but a necessity as urban populations explode and infrastructure demands soar.

India, home to over 1.4 billion people, is urbanising at an unprecedented pace. By 2050, the urban population is expected to nearly double, bringing a slew of challenges from housing shortages to pollution crises. In response, the Indian government initiated the Smart Cities Mission in 2015, aiming to create 100 smart cities that are both sustainable and technologically advanced.

These smart cities are envisioned as more than just spaces with free Wi-Fi and automated traffic lights. They are complex ecosystems where technology intersects with every facet of life, aimed at improving not just infrastructure but also governance and quality of life. This initiative is pivotal not only for urban transformation but also for setting a global example of sustainable urbanisation.

The backbone of these smart cities is a series of innovative technologies that enable more efficient city management and better service delivery. GIS have proven to be a cornerstone technology, helping cities like Pune and Surat in spatial planning and management. GIS platforms assist in detailed mapping of urban landscapes, analysing everything from traffic patterns to disaster management zones. This allows for real-time, informed decision-making that can dynamically transform city planning.

Further integrating technology, Indian cities are increasingly adopting Building Information Modeling (BIM), a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of places. BIM's influence was notably seen in the construction of the Hyderabad Metro Rail, where it was used to oversee the project lifecycle, ensuring efficiency and reducing the need for revisions.

Mobility solutions within these urban infrastructures are also evolving, significantly enhancing operational efficiency and passenger convenience. Advances in elevator technologies, such as regenerative systems and the use of advanced metallurgy and fabrication practices to reduce elevator car loads, are turning energy efficiency and sustainability from theoretical concepts into practical realities.

One of the most ambitious applications of technology in urban India is the development of command and control centers. These nerve centres gather data from various sensors and CCTV cameras embedded throughout the city to monitor everything from traffic and weather conditions to public safety and water quality. Surat’s Smart City Centre, for example, uses these inputs to optimise traffic signals, reduce crime through better surveillance, and even manage floods more effectively by monitoring water levels in real-time.

Despite these advances, the transition to smart urban ecosystems is fraught with challenges. Cybersecurity emerges as a significant concern, with cities becoming increasingly vulnerable to attacks that could cripple essential services. Additionally, the disparity in digital literacy across India’s diverse socio-economic landscape raises questions about equitable access to the benefits of smart cities.

Another challenge lies in the very backbone of these urban transformations--infrastructure. The rapid pace of construction needed to keep up with urbanisation often clashes with sustainable building practices. While green buildings are part of the long-term plan, with the Indian Green Building Council aggressively promoting them, the actual implementation on a large scale remains inconsistent.

Moreover, the integration of smart solutions in public services has not been uniformly successful across all cities. Issues like frequent power outages, inadequate data management systems, and poor integration of services often undermine the potential benefits of these smart solutions.

Funding is another critical hurdle. Urban development, especially when interwoven with sophisticated technology, is expensive. India has increasingly turned to public-private partnerships (PPPs) to finance these ventures. The Smart Cities Mission itself is structured around PPPs, with the central and state governments covering only a part of the costs. While this model has facilitated some high-profile projects like the Mumbai Metro, it also raises concerns about long-term sustainability and the prioritisation of profit over public welfare.

Addressing these issues requires a nuanced approach that balances technological advancements with sustainable urban planning. Policies like the National Urban Digital Mission launched in 2021 aim to create a shared digital infrastructure that can support urban governance across the country, fostering more cohesive and inclusive growth.

Despite the hurdles, the technological revolution in urban India carries the promise of transformational change. For instance, Kochi, in Kerala, leverages solar power to run its ferry services, a step towards greener public transport solutions. Bengaluru’s utility apps, which allow residents to manage everything from water bills to parking fees, are simplifying urban living.

As these technologies mature and scale, the vision of Indian cities as global standard-bearers of urban innovation becomes more tangible. The urban development models that emerge from India's smart city projects could serve as blueprints for other countries grappling with similar challenges of urbanisation and sustainability.

In the broader context, India’s urban future hinges on its ability to harness technology not just to build smarter cities but to create inclusive, sustainable communities. The leap from traditional to smart cities is not merely about embedding technology into urban fabric; it is about rethinking urban life, making it more sustainable, efficient, and above all, humane. The success of this monumental transition will ultimately depend on a careful blend of technology, policy, and public engagement, shaping not just skylines but the very contours of daily life.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Aman Moudgil

Quelle/Source: Hindustan Times, 10.06.2024

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