India : 99 cities chosen as demonstrator “smart cities”

India’s government launched its ambitious Smart City Mission in 2015, with support from France. The mission envisions incentivising cities to take charge of their own ‘smart’ development and become demonstrator smart cities. Almost one hundred pilot cities have so far been selected to implement solutions for sustainable and inclusive development.

India – the world’s second most populous country after China (with 1.33 billion inhabitants compared with China’s 1.38 billion) – faces immeasurable problems related to rapid urbanisation. With an environment close to asphyxiation, the mission’s agenda covers every conceivable subject including sanitation, water, waste, transport and housing. In 2015, India’s prime minister, Narenda Modi, launched the ‘100 Smart Cities Mission’ with the aim of providing India with sustainable and liveable cities. French ambassador to India, Alexandre Ziegler, explains: “The Smart Cities Mission is a flagship initiative of the Indian government and envisions a very innovative system of governance. It seeks to promote upskilling of decentralised layers of government and a holistic approach to questions of urban planning that will even engage citizens in the selection projects. Each city put forward for the Mission by its respective State had to submit its own smart city proposal”.

New Smart Solutions

Each proposal should encapsulate a model of area-based renewal (redevelopment) or improvement (retrofitting), in which an existing area – variable in size from 20 to 200 hectares – is identified and used to test solutions that meet smart city objectives. The strategy is then rolled out across the entire city. Greenfield development  constitutes the third potential element for a city’s proposal, seeking smart solutions using innovative planning, plan financing and plan implementation tools with provision for affordable housing, especially for the poor, using greenfield sites on city outskirts.

The government has stipulated that a pan-city element must also be included that applies new Smart Solutions using innovative technology, information and data “to make infrastructures and services better” and has cited intelligent traffic management systems, waste water recycling and smart metering as of particular importance.

Alexandre Ziegler, French Ambassador to India in Pondicherry. ©French Embassy in India.

“Renewal of Indian cities”.

“At this stage, the Mission constitutes a framework for prioritising investment and has not yet evolved into a proper urban development plan”, notes Brice Piechaczyk, co-founder of Enia Architects (see separate article). The heaviest cost items and least mature sectors are transport infrastructures within individual cities (such as metro systems) and transport infrastructure connecting different cities (planes, trains) and also waste management. Brice Piechaczyk continues: “it presents huge opportunities for city planners because each city is tendering for partners to carry out studies and deliberate on potential planning improvements,” adding that “further along, the cities will be issuing calls for architectural projects”. Although it is too early to assess the project’s success, it is already of merit for launching “a new dynamic” and “putting urban planning and development onto the political agenda, as well as raising some new subjects for India such as cycle tracks, multimodality, accessibility, riverbank development, electric mobility and cleanliness of public spaces”, asserts the Ambassador. “By introducing a more integrated and transversal vision of city planning, this initiative could constitute a milestone road to a much longer-term renewal for India’s cities”.

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