Prof. Arup Dasgupta
The world is going ‘smart’; there are smartphones, smart cards, smart sensors, smart satellites and now smart cities. What is behind this adjective? Intelligence for one, though as a noun it could mean neat but as a verb it would imply hurt. So, a smart city would be one that manages itself intelligently and appears neat and well groomed. On the other hand, not being intelligent could lead to a hurtful outcome! But, enough of wordplay; the highlight of last month was the Geospatial World Forum 2014 held from May 5 to 9 in the beautiful city of Geneva with ‘GeoSmart Planet, Resources, Infrastructure and You’ as it theme.
The event was big with more than a thousand delegates from 78 countries and five ministerial-level participants. After two days of scintillating presentations in the plenary sessions by world leaders in the geospatial arena, there were two days of intensive parallel sessions. Having the privilege of chairing the session on Land Information Systems for Smart Cities, I was exposed to the various activities in different member countries under the aegis of the UN Economic Commission for Europe. Two days of presentations and discussions brought out that for a city to be smart, it needs to plan ahead adopting a lifecycle approach. Smartness involves people and their diversities, and therefore entails dialogue between the stakeholders. Smart cities are not only about smart technologies, though they help, but about smart usage of technologies, smart ones included. Thus smart cities should cleverly adopt an open and shared data approach, under which combined data can be used for multidimensional analysis. In the end, it boils down to people, so, put people in the centre and set up a two way dialogue. Encourage individual innovators. Smart citizens make cities smart.
One aspect of a smart city is its database, which not only includes data about the land but also about the infrastructure both above and below the ground. While geospatial has contributed immensely to the information above the ground, there is a need for addressing the assets below the ground as well. This aspect is brought out in the article by Geoff Zeiss who is the Editor, Building and Energy, Geospatial World. Zeiss was also conferred the Geospatial Ambassador Award during the event for his efforts in sensitising the Building and Energy sectors about the benefits of geospatial technologies.
Another aspect which is of interest is the participation at the ministerial level in a session on Evolving Geospatial Policies for Development. More than what was said, it was their very participation in the event which bodes well for the geospatial industry, since in the final analysis, it is the governmental support that makes or breaks geospatial initiatives.
In conclusion, to be geosmart in the context of city planning and management, geospatial systems need to serve the information needs of city planners, managers and the citizens by seamlessly integrating data and models with other systems like e-governance and e-commerce. It also needs to adopt emerging technologies like Big Data, Cloud and new sensors in space, air and ground. Most importantly, it needs to carry with it top decision makers, administrators, technologists and citizens.