At a discussion on smart cities, a participant asked, “What is a smart city?” He went on to explain that as a person in charge of smart city initiatives in his organization, he was confused because each group had a different definition which suited that group’s ongoing activities. For example, the hardware and firmware vendors talked of a completely connected city as a smart city. The government agencies, on the other hand, preferred to link smartness to e-governance. You might think that it is a classic case of the seven blind men and the elephant but in this case the men are not blind. They know that smart cities are government funded and are out to get a piece of the pie. Some amount of elbowing is also apparent! Recently, a professional working in the geospatial field rued that geospatial professionals were being kept at bay by the ‘server and networking’ lobby!
This is a pity because any smartness without inclusivity is actually dumb in the long run. Inclusivity is required not only among the players but for the citizens of the targeted city as well. “Smart cities for whom?” is a relevant question. Cities are not just made up of buildings and utilities, servers and networks, but include the most important component, the people who live there. It is these people who are the lifeblood of the city and who give their city a unique character. What would they want? Efficient transport, assured services, better healthcare facilities, better environment, the list goes on. In short, a smart city is one that enhances the quality of life of its inhabitants. Viewed from this perspective the parameters of smartness changes. Smart solutions to city issues will make a city smart. One of the biggest issues is the sustainability of cities as they are. Many are bursting at the seams with unplanned growth, over-committed services, inadequate health facilities and rising crime.
Clearly, a holistic approach is required which has to use many technologies and bind them together into solutions. Most certainly, digital data available over networks is needed, not only for local governments but also for NGOs and citizens. No city can be managed without location information and that is a strong case for geospatial systems not only to be a part of the digital solutions but in fact the very base, the very core of smartness. Unfortunately, most of the smart city plans I have seen tend to treat the geospatial part as an add-on, an amulet to be shown as an indicator of smartness.
A city is an ecosystem, ever growing, ever changing. Managing such an ecosystem requires that the city managers have a finger on its pulse and that can only be provided by two initiatives. First, a live spatial database is needed which records the present, indicates the route to its future growth and development and monitors the growth as it happens. The second is an interactive link with its citizens which enables them to be in regular touch with the city managers on local issues and future plans. Networks, servers, geospatial technologies, IoT, Big Data and Cloud are all the tools that will enable such a smart city provided they are used intelligently to evolve solutions.
Prof Arup Dasgupta