Eleven thousand years have passed since the founding of Jerico, Palestine, the oldest city in the world to be constantly populated. From then until now, thousands of cities have gone up and a fair few have gone down, together with many more which will disappear in the future (among other factors, due to climatic change).
While cities are born, grow and develop and some are dying out, within them decisions are made and dynamics generated according to their inhabitants and the authorities who define the destiny of each one of them. In this destiny, technology will play a key role, but cannot lead a city to progress alone. This means that technology is used with other elements in order to create the “Smart City”, which has been being shaped during the last five years. There are many definitions of a smart city. One of them is that which is managed and promoted by consultancy Navigant Research, who describe them as: “the integration of technology into a strategic approach to sustainability, citizen well being, and economic development”.
Smart cities have been getting underway, and these days the world possesses several examples still under creation in Europe, North America, Japan and China. India doesn’t want to be left behind, and their recently elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, launched the goal of generating 100 smart cities in the coming decades a few days ago.
A challenge the size of the population of India
Minister Modi knows what creating this collosal quantity of smart cities really means as a goal. When he was Governer of the state of Gujurat (2001-2014), he created the special region of Dholera, a place where a smart city was looked to be created. For this, a special law was released in 2009, and private groups ready to invest were brought together. The project is now underway.
The Prime Minister has also gained the support of Singapore and Japan to bring his proposal to life. This last country will invest 4.5 billion dollars in the industrial corridor of Delhi-Mumbai, the area where Dholera is found. Other countries, such as
Holland also aim to make the most of this ambitious project.
Photo: Dholera SIR
India and its Prime Minister are in a hurry to convert current cities and build new ones under the smart city model. It’s estimated that 360 million Hindus (30% of the aprox. 1.2 billion inhabitants) currently live in urban centres, and the consultancy McKinsey estimates that by 2030 around 590 million will live in these. This puts immense social and political pressure on the national government, as well as regional ones, to accommodate such a vast population. A similar phenomenon occurred in China years ago, which continues developing modern cities along the East coast, some with rather unconvincing outcomes.
The Prime Minister’s announcement has put the topic to public debate. Some think that the goal will be impossible to reach, and accuse its promotors of not having a concrete schedule or deadline. Others think it is viable. What’s certain is that, in the near future, diverse events to better structure the idea will take place. One example of these is the international congress Smart Cities India 2015, which will be celebrated in May 2015 in New Delhi.
Inhabitable cities, worldwide urban goal
Creating smarter cities (bearing in mind that this concept requires equality and sustainability) is a challenge not just for India but for the whole world. Currently, cities are very unequal, and some countries enforce social rules which maintain this status. India is one of these countries, and because of this their goal is even more complex. Furthermore, being the largest democracy in the world, any decision they make will take longer to come about, as opposed to China, which is governed by just one party.
But neither India nor the rest of the world is alone in its efforts. The Smart Cities Council promotes the adoption of the concept strongly. UN-Habitat is also pushing it forwards, as well as large companies, mainly those related to technology. IBM and Cisco lead this new market, followed by Siemens, GE and Hitachi, and then Microsoft, SAP and Capgemini, among others.
Some of these companies, in fact, already work at the Indian government’s right hand. Are smart cities the solution to the great worldwide urban challenge? It’s very probable that this is not the case per se, but it’s certain that the concept has enriched the argument for more “livable” cities.