The Smart Cities Mission: A status check

Context: Under the Smart Cities Mission, cities across the country were asked to submit proposals for projects to improve municipal services and to make their jurisdictions more livable. At a review meeting by Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary, these cities were offered help towards meeting the deadline.

As the June 2023 deadline for completing the Smart Cities Mission approaches, the government has asked 20 of the worst-performing cities — ones that have completed the fewest projects under the mission — to buck up.

Among the laggards are six cities from the Northeast, five Union Territories, and three state capitals. “The cities have been instructed and offered guidance to complete the projects within the stipulated time frame,” the Smart Cities Mission said on its Twitter handle last month.

What is the Smart Cities Mission?

  • The Smart Cities Mission is an initiative of the Union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry that was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modion June 25, 2015. Cities across the country were asked to submit proposals for projects to improve municipal services and to make their jurisdictions more livable.
  • The main objective of the Mission is to promote cities that provide core infrastructure, clean and sustainable environment and give a decent quality of life to their citizens through the application of ‘smart solutions’.
  • The Mission aims to drive economic growth and improve quality of life through comprehensive work on social, economic, physical and institutional pillars of the city. The focus is on sustainable and inclusive development by creation of replicable models which act as lighthouses to other aspiring cities.
  • 100 cities have been selected to be developed as Smart Cities through a two-stage competition. The projects were supposed to be completed within five years of the selection of the city, but in 2021 the Ministry changed the deadline for all cities to June 2023, which was earlier the deadline for Shillong alone.

What do we mean by a Smart City?

Smart cities are cities that work. Most importantly, work for whom? And, what do we mean by cities that work?

Cities are confluences of people; places where people live, come to meet, exchange ideas, earn livelihoods, access education, health and other services and enjoy a life of good quality. People are at the core of the city. Therefore, cities should work for their people. Cities that work for their people will continuously become better versions of themselves with each passing day.

“We shape cities, and they shape us.” – Jan Gehl

What do we mean by cities that work for their people?

  • There are, largely, two kinds of factors, which attract people into cities – ‘push factors’, led by distress or scarcity in their place of origin – like droughts, violence, social rifts etc. and ‘pull factors’, like better opportunities for education, business and industry, leisure, art and culture etc.
  • Decoding the specific reasons for which people choose a certain city over others is at the core of understanding any city’s DNA – the foundational building blocks that drive the city. The aspirations of a city’s inhabitants evolve with time and hence these reasons have to be studied in the relevant contexts. In order to understand these reasons, smart city practitioners need to ask some crucial questions, for example – which are the different communities that constitute the city, what are their current needs, how have their needs evolved, what are their hopes and aspirations, what attracts outsiders to the city etc.
  • A city can be said to work for its people only if it supports them in their chosen pursuits. If one is a migrant, coming into the city for two years in connection to my job, his or her needs would hover around access to decent rental housing, efficient modes of public transport, recreational places and so on. However, if one is a student, his or her needs could be about availability of good educational institutions, safe cycling and walking infrastructure. This is different from the needs of an elderly citizen who may prioritize access to good quality healthcare above other things.
  • Clearly, not all people or sets of people desire the same things. In order to simplify the understanding of the diversity of needs expressed by a city’s diverse residents, it is useful to classify them under three broad pillars – livability, economic-ability and sustainability. Imagine these as three folders on your computer that have multiple files of different types, dealing with different aspects.
  • These, thus, constitute the three broad outcomes that a city needs to target in order to work for its people. In other words, to answer the question ‘what is a smart city’ in another way; it is a city, which is liveable, sustainable and has a thriving economy offering multiple opportunities to its people to pursue their diverse interests.

What kinds of projects were proposed?

  • After the Ministry gave broad guidelines to the participating cities, the project proposals ranged from making certain stretches of roads more accessible and pedestrian-friendly to more capital-intensive ones like laying water pipelines and constructing sewage treatment plants.
  • All 100 cities have also constructed Integrated Command and Control Centers to monitor all security, emergency and civic services. During the peak of the Covid-19pandemic, these centers were converted into emergency response units by many of the cities.

What is the status of the projects?

  • As of March 3, the 100 cities have issued work orders for 7,799 projects worth Rs 1.80 lakh crore, the government told Parliament on March 13. Out of these, 5,399 projects worth Rs.1.02 lakh crore have been completed, and the rest are ongoing.
  • Only around 20 cities are likely to meet the June deadline; the rest will need more time. Cities selected in January and June 2018 have achieved 44% of their targets, while those selected in 2016 in the second round are not much farther ahead with 46% completion.
  • Shillong has completed just one of its 18 proposed projects.

Source: Indian Express

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