Are Smart Cities The Answer to Urbanization of the World? Examining the Pros and Cons
Urbanizing World, Social Unrest, and Urban Nightmares
The world is urbanizing at an alarming pace. We used the word, alarming, as the pace of migration to the cities and the urban and metropolitan areas worldwide is making such places groan under the weight of too many people and too inadequate infrastructure.
Indeed, the rate at which the world is urbanizing means that unless solutions are found to the problems of inadequate housing, decaying infrastructure, depleting water sources, mismatched transportation, and inefficient garbage and pollution control systems, pretty soon the world would be confronting an Urban Nightmare that can easily lead to mass social unrest and civic violence.
Already, there are signs of this happening as can be seen in the numerous instances of protests and violence worldwide including the ongoing Yellow Vests revolt in Paris that arose from dissatisfaction about rising prices and poor living conditions in the suburbs and the main regions of France.
In addition, in the developing world, cities in India and other Asian countries routinely lapse into spasmodic bouts of unrest as the masses protest for various reasons, the root cause of which is Urban Angst. Thus, unless policymakers worldwide come up with innovative and inventive solutions to tackle these problems, the situation is only likely to get worse.
Are Smart Cities the Answer to the Problems Caused Due to Urbanization?
An answer to some of these problems lies in the promotion of the so-called Smart Cities or Cities where Urban Administration is driven by cutting edge technologies to administer the automated garbage disposal, efficient water usage including rainwater harvesting and composting, digitalized services such as tax and power meters being linked to a central control room, parking solutions that are made person independent and where automated and robotic parking systems synergize, and above all, a thrust on real time governance wherein a Central Command and Control system is setup that monitors all aspects of urban governance to smoothen out the creases and address the glitches.
Indeed, these and more aspects of what are known as Smart Cities are what is driving Urban Mayors and Administrators worldwide to campaign on het platform of enhancing Urban governance through the Smart City concept.
Already there are many cities worldwide that lay claim to the badge of being Smart Cities and in India, the government has made provisions to provide grants to those cities which it feels can be upgraded to this tier.
Smart Cities Cannot be the Panacea without Tackling Fundamental Root Causes
Having said that, it must also be noted that Smart Cities by themselves are not a panacea to the problems being faced in the urban regions of the world.
What is the point of automating urban systems when water is running out and the aquifers are being depleted?
In addition, can a city with the Smart City tag be any better than other cities in combating atmospheric pollution and the Deadly Smog that envelops cities such as Beijing and Delhi?
Moreover, with unplanned cities worldwide being the norm rather than the exception, how much can automation and digitalization help if the design of the roads and the traffic sense and civic sense are woefully short of being ideal or even orderly?
Thus, it is apparent that putting too much emphasis on fancy jargon might be good for winning elections whereas in reality, the situation on the ground remains the same.
This is what is making some urban experts doubt whether according a city the tag of being a Smart City and pouring funds into it to make it closer to what is theoretically envisaged but practically unfeasible would solve the problems being faced by them.
In short, while one can be Smart in appearance, unless we tackle the underlying problems, what remains is the Glitter that can be wiped away in an instant.
Urban Rejuvenation, Urban Revitalization, and Some Solutions
A way out of this would be to strengthen the existing urban management systems in a practical and feasible as well as realistic manner.
For instance, plugging water and power leakages would help immensely in bringing more revenues to the Corporations and help the citizens lead responsible lives.
In addition, fixing the lakes and the water bodies on which cities depend for their water needs can be a starting point for better urban governance.
Apart from this, simple acts such as Car Pooling and encouraging cycling and use of Green transport such as Electric Vehicles can help in reducing the pollution.
Moreover, by withholding permissions for further construction so as to not turn the cities into Concrete Jungles can help in utilizing the Green Cover in the city.
Above all, a mindset change of driving and parking responsibly would go a long way in addressing the traffic woes.
Thus, what are needed are the political will and the participation of Civil Society in Urban Rejuvenation and Revitalization instead of Catchy Slogans and Feel Good Rhetoric that is empty.
Lastly, Smart Cities do have a place and that is when one envisages building a suburb, Satellite Township, or a Greenfield city that can made Smart since it is being built from scratch and hence, it is easier to plan and develop it in a holistic manner.
This is what is behind the idea of building the New Capital of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, Amravati, from the ground up and this is also the idea behind the GIFT City in Gujarat.
To conclude, it is indeed the case that improving existing systems of urban governance and investing in Smart city policies can go hand in hand and make the urban world more livable.
Authorship/Referencing - About the Author(s)
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