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November, 28th 2010

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Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by Dr. Manish Gupta, Chief Technologist, IBM India/South Asia and Director, IBM Research – India 

Last week I watched the first episode of a TV series, Ecopolis, on Discovery Channel. The program identifies technology based solutions that will help cities manage the crushing pressure on their resources in the next forty years. The situation in Indian cities is perhaps more pressing.

All of us living in Indian cities experience the pressures of a massively burgeoning population on an inadequate infrastructure. Our metro cities were built at a time when their phenomenal growth could not have been foreseen so the gap between demand and supply for civic services and utilities continues. While there are ways to improve the condition in established cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, and Delhi (which continue to grow at a significant pace), newer cities are surely better placed in terms of building a futuristic, highly scalable infrastructure that can cope with rapid urban proliferation.  The right combination of technology and urban policy can lead to far more streamlined urban systems that make a difference to quality of life in our cities of tomorrow.

The IBM Institute for Business Value has published an executive report titled “A vision of smarter cities: how cities can lead the way into a prosperous and sustainable future”. The paper takes a systems view of a city and we see an interplay of the following systems – city services, citizens, business, transport, communication, water and energy. A city services system constitutes the operational activities and coordination of service delivery provided by the municipalities, while the citizens system covers public safety, health and education. A city’s business system refers to the environment that businesses face in terms of policy and regulation. Cities offer citizens and businesses the ability to move things around through their transport systems and share ideas and information through their communication systems. Cities also offer two core utilities necessary for all economic and social activity – water and energy. 

 If we hope to prepare our cities for explosive urbanization, we need to put existing ones on a journey of becoming ‘smart’ and envision the new emerging towns to leapfrog to a state of optimized urban systems. “Smart” cities know how to transform their systems and optimize the use of finite resources. To help drive efficiency and increase effectiveness they leverage technology to make systems instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent.

Take a basic utility like water. Smart cities are able to connect several independent systems to create datasets that allow the analysis of the volume of sewage from homes and business against the volume of water coming in from ground water or rainfall. Problem areas can be quickly targeted for detailed inspection. This process helps improve the efficiency of sewer systems and reduce environmental impact. Another pressure point is road infrastructure. And when physical infrastructure upgrades go hand-in-hand with an intelligent data system the results can be quite impressive. For example the implementation of Free Flow Tolling in Brisbane yielded a six fold increase in vehicle capacity on a particular motorway, reduced traffic time by up to 10 minutes, reduced traffic incidents by 27% and allows the authorities to provide real time alerts to travelers about congestion, construction, and accidents before they reach the affected area.

India’s urban areas spew 70% of the country’s carbon emissions, out of which 40% is a result of vehicles. Can we design our traffic systems in a way that results in less congestion, and in turn, reduce pollution and minimize greenhouse emissions?
Economic development and responsibility to the environment can and must go hand in hand. India has an over dependence on coal and petroleum based fuels for energy generation. Alternative and renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power are critical to making India energy self sufficient as well as reducing environmental side effects from power generation. The need of the hour is a collaborative approach – involving both the government and public sector – that supports the development of clean and green energy. The government plays an important role by forming supportive policies and enabling entrepreneurial initiatives. 

You’ll surely agree that at the rate urbanization is exploding, the problems that megacities of the future will face will be multiples of those we face today. It is time to act. The floor is open for your thoughts and opinions. I look forward to seeing your views on issues related to transport, energy, waste management, food, water and greener buildings.

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11:46 am

Looking at it another way, are there cities where some issues are particularly acute (I’m guessing traffic in Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi for a start). Do these get treated as a priority?

Posted by: vestuvine suknele
December 24, 2010
6:22 am

Interesting to see that my blog on creating Smarter Cities in India has evoked a fair amount of response from people both within and outside the country. In a nutshell most seem to concur that we need to do something – but do not know where to start. This is perhaps true of many of the problems our country faces but the greatest disservice we can do is inaction. IBM has partnered with several city administrations across the world to help them on the journey of becoming “smarter”. Organizing and planning for this journey is critical and requires a mind-set shift. The first step is to assemble a team. City administrations need to work with other levels of the government as well as partner with external private and non-profit organizations. Think revolution not evolution. The technology of intelligent, interconnected, and instrumented systems for cities is available here and now. And finally don’t forget the big picture because solving one problem is not enough. The challenges and threats to sustainability come from all over and requires a holistic strategy.

Posted by: Manish Gupta
December 8, 2010
8:52 am

Thank you for your post. Urban traffic management or transport engineering is a subject in itself. In my view the solutions should be considered from two different angles. One, how to reduce traffic congestion, and hence reduce time to commute which in turn reduce money (time spent), fuel consumption and carbon footprint. Two, how can we reduce the travel itself.

The first issue is a more specific to location (city), culture, infrastructure, etc. As an example, roads of cities in Africa or Asia are used by automobiles, pedestrians, stray animals, hand-pulled carts, bicycles, etc. It is difficult to monitor and manage all these users. On top of that there are random effects of breakdown, or water logging which are unpredictable and difficult to model. Technology can help to control and reduce traffic rule violation for automobiles by automatic number plate recognition and ticketing systems.

My vision of a true smart city is more related to the second issue. We can reduce the *need* to travel across busy city roads. People often have to travel from one corner of a city to the other just to talk to a person – a banker, a government official, a solicitor. Technology can reduce such movements, saving time, money, pollution. Organisations and government authorities can open tele-presence kiosks as their branch offices. Operational cost of these kiosks would be less compared to conventional offices. On the other hand, service availability would be high. Finally, we can save our planet. Adoption of such model can always be a slow starter but people will start using eventually (think of using ATMs).

Posted by: Biswajit Acharya
December 6, 2010
6:24 am

thanks for highlighting the issues. By and large we common people are unaware of future challenges dwelling under this inorganic, unplanned and haphazard growth.

There are lots of challenges as you have highlighted and I feel it’s not only in those specific areas it’s in the whole lifecycle, eg. if you take energy it’s across the whole value chain; from creation, distribution, retailing, consumption / metering, conservation and reutilization and same goes for water as well. Traffic congestion is a huge problem. I strongly believe technology can be a good enabler/catalyst but lots of other issues are holding us back e.g.
- There is no match between our policies and the way infrastructure growth is required, absolute mismatch.
- Functional leadership, “right” person on the top with “right” delegation and “right” authority (e.g. Elattuvalapil Sreedharan in DMRC)
- Just a tangential thinking, Is population bust and democracy doesn’t go hand in hand? don’t know??How do I manage?
- Like for traffic, if I take the example of Delhi roads, it’s not that bad but still you have very bad congestion. Is it rule enforcement or public awareness (lane driving) or some pockets are dug up for new developments, bad design etc..

But definitely it needs brain storming, I can right down numerous issues some will point to policies, some to policy makers but that’s not the solution.

If you can clearly define the problem there are high chances you already know the solution. Doctor can subsidize high fever by injection therapy but that’s not the cure.Technology can help you solve the problem provided we know root cause and fundamental issue; atleast I am struggling to isolate that.

Posted by: Atul Arora
December 4, 2010
2:09 am

re: “…Free Flow Tolling in Brisbane yielded a six fold increase in vehicle capacity …”

A significant part of this improvement is due to a switch from toll booth to open road tolling (RFID/DSRC) similar to 407 in Toronto or Florida system. Changing all the toll booths in the world to ORT will be a positive but minor step whose efficacy relative to the global problem of congestion will soon diminish.

Changing from untolled to tolled roads also increases capacity, with the amount of increase depending on the sensitivity of the charge relative to congestion (real-time tolling). Because most roads are currently untolled, this approach, used everywhere (not just limited access highways) would leave transportation managers with a very powerful tool, and motorists with a far more reliable transportation network.

Posted by: Bern Grush
December 1, 2010
8:15 am

Looking at it another way, are there cities where some issues are particularly acute (I’m guessing traffic in Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi for a start). Do these get treated as a priority?

Posted by: seema
November 30, 2010
8:42 pm

The basic infrastructure readiness is a critical first step for any country and its development – especially in emerging cities – this must be accessible to draw foreign investment. Without road, port (waterways) or air, water, power, teleco utilities infrastructure – it will be difficult to spur economic development. Urbanisation and the increase in middle income follows with employment and increase in wage. The demand for higher quality product will spur [quality] consumption and the need for smart cities in optimality.

Of course, one may be able to leverage on latest technology in the building of infrastructure to put in place “smart” cities but that must be coupled with economic development, environment and technology in mind (policy and regulations).

I think it is natural that India will leverage on its natural resource of coal and petroleum in its power generation and if there are existing environment policy in place – technology with improved desulphurisation can be put in place to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas from coal plant. Government policy and regulations must come hand-in-hand. Very often than not, it is the price economics that put new technology on hold. For instance, the use of fuel-cell cars will reduce CO2 to zero. However, the lack of hydrogen infrastructure makes it expensive and diesel continues to be the fuel in transportation. In addition, the emergence of LNG cars being introduced are not pervasive until I supposed policy and regulation required so. Also, road transportation compared to waterway – it seems even with diesel fueled vessels the CO2 emission will be much lesser than the amount of trucks on the road. Transport policy as such if put in place will help to enforce optimality.

Country and in a way personal security continues to be a concern with technology at lightning speed. So maybe being a little slow, it is ok … to allow home be home and not a technology-wired home. :)

Posted by: Ngiam Share Ching
November 30, 2010
10:54 am

Hi,Its nice to see this Urban India blog. People like me and you, do think about how to improve quality of various basic necessities in Urban India. Todays technology helps to simulate and visualize, what we are planning in blue prints(design drafts).In India from roads to industrial hubs to residential colonies; from Malls to residential home need basic redesign in terms to energy consumption, waste management, water management and so on. In general masses are unaware of future hazards incubating under their unplanned and hay wired growth. Not only Masses need to be educated about it, But also our sleeping policy maker who are running the masses.

At Kaladhari Infosys, we are putting are best foot forward, to bring 3D visualization tools to masses

Posted by: Paramjeet Singh
November 28, 2010
10:25 pm

Hi, thanks for the educational post. I’ve only spent a short time in India, but understand how big issues such as transport, waste management, food and water are locally. These are of course huge issues globally too.

I’d be interested to understand whether any of the Indian cities are starting to make good progress / develop learnings – if so, which cities and on what issue?

Looking at it another way, are there cities where some issues are particularly acute (I’m guessing traffic in Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi for a start). Do these get treated as a priority?

It would be great to have a group of experts brainstorming solutions to these issues (and other issues that stem from population increases, like environment / native animal conservation, which could bring more tourist revenue into the country. Though that is not specific to ‘cities’).

I will watch this space with great interest!

Posted by: Ro Hetherington
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