By: Ashvin Dayal, Michael Berkowitz, and Anna Brown
In its bid to transform the country's urban landscape, the Indian government will launch the 100 Smart Cities program this month, aiming to bring about efficient and reliable infrastructure and services, enhanced quality of urban life, and economic opportunities for residents in selected cities.
Information and communications technology solutions have inevitably emerged as key tools required for the transformation. And given the complexity of urban governance in many cities, local projects that bridge new technologies and community voices will be especially important.
The Smart Cities initiative offers selected cities the opportunity to learn from innovations in other cities, as well as examine how to use available assets and resources more efficiently.
Our experience with urban leaders across the country gives us confidence that multipurpose and locally-driven solutions can indeed support cities to become not just smarter, but also more inclusive, both of which can improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people.
Over the last five years, through the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) and, more recently, by 100 Resilient Cities - pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation, dozens of cities in Asia, including India, have been equipped to prepare for, take on, or even prevent, crises resulting from the convergence of climate change, urbanisation and globalisation.
Through these efforts, many cities have embraced low-cost and decentralised solutions to challenges such as water and waste management. We've learned that an essential element to building a city's resilience is to ensure the participation of local communities and a range of voices.
Last April, Taru Leading Edge, which works with cities in the ACCCRN and 100 RC networks, released its Road to Resilience, a new book that captures many of these innovations and showcases a diverse set of solutions that can be adapted in a variety of contexts.
As Indian cities prepare to become smart cities, leaders can learn from these innovations and consider how to apply, adapt, and scale them to enhance resilience and livability in their own cities.
For example, in extremely water-stressed environments such as Indore in Madhya Pradesh, Taru has applied a conjunctive water use system that aggregates water sources for different purposes. This includes the separation of clean drinking water from water strictly for sanitation, and the re-use of treated non-potable grey water.
This system reduces households' expenditure and helps communities to overcome periods of peak shortage in the municipal water supply. Scaling this up requires collaboration between developers and residents' welfare associations to build or retro-fit existing infrastructure.
Across the Indian sub-continent, cities are getting hotter, with severe implications for human health and labour productivity. Last week, a massive heatwave killed over 1,000 people in the country.
While residents may opt for indoor living to avoid direct exposure to the sun, there are multiple low-cost measures that can make their home more livable. For example, Taru has used cool roof and passive ventilation technologies that can lower ambient temperatures by 3-4 degrees celsius. These measures could help reduce health-risks, especially among the elderly and children.
For cities which have encountered increasing demands or extreme shocks, restoration of local ecosystems is a solution that has offered multiple benefits to residents. This can be clearly seen in the use of low-cost floating wetlands to improve water quality of degraded lakes in Indore. The restored lakes, with healthier ecosystems, have not only created fisheries sources for local residents but also supplementary systems for the cities' flood retention and emergency water supply.
Smart Cities offers a tremendous opportunity for Indian cities to innovate solutions that can address multiple challenges, serve diverse systems of cities and maximize the benefits of existing assets and natural resources. Ultimately, they act as a reminder to all stakeholders that a smart city should promote the well-being of all residents, in good times and bad, through better preparation and management of shocks and stresses.
There are many home-grown success stories throughout India that offer outstanding examples to cities here - and everywhere for how to become both smart and resilient. We need to continue to learn and share, and Smart Cities offers a new opportunity to do both.
Ashvin Dayal is Associate Vice President and Managing Director, Asia and Anna Brown is Senior Associate Director at The Rockefeller Foundation. Michael Berkowitz is President, 100 Resilient Cities