Event ReportsPublished on Jun 06, 2017
Innovative, sustainable solutions can make Shimla a smart city

New and better ways can make urban centres “smart” in their operations with particular focus on sustainability. This viewpoint emerged during a two-day workshop on “Smart City 2017” organised in Shimla on May 19 & 20, 2017.

The Smart Cities Mission, an initiative of the Government of India (GoI) post the completion of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), as a policy progression for improved planning for urban areas, has been a subject of intense discussion and debates in policy and research circles since its inception on  June 25, 2015. The “standout” feature of this programme is the insistence of the mission that the cities come up with innovative, effective, resource intensive, technology-led, and city specific SMART solutions for several concerns facing the cities in India today including energy management, urban mobility, spatial planning, poverty and slum development, traffic and safety management, etc.

The cities in this mission are seen as equal partners in both generation/mobilisation of funds as well as for the implementation of the projects thereby calling for improved quality of civic governance. The Mission is about to complete two years, and 60 cities have been chosen through a competition method. Of these, 20 cities that are termed as “lighthouse cities” are already into the implementation phase. At this juncture it is considered important to evaluate the planning and implementation mechanism that are currently operational in Indian cities in order to effectively contribute to the ongoing policy dialogue on smart, sustainable urban development.

Towards this, prominent institutes from India and Germany are conducting a series of workshops. The main objectives of this engagement are to: (a) establish a long-term platform for exchange of knowledge on smart cities among scholars and practitioners, and (b) contribute to and influence the ongoing debate on smart cities in India.

The first workshop was organised in Shimla (an aspiring smart city) by the Heidelberg Centre South Asia (HCSA) and Observer Research Foundation (ORF). Other partners here included School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), the Indian Institute of Architects (Shimla Chapter), the German House for Research and Innovation (DWIH) and Friedrich Naumann Foundation.

Four thematic sessions were included in the workshop viz., Inclusive Cities, Smart Infrastructure and Mobility, Smart Resource Management and Smart Governance.

The inaugural session focussed on the conceptual understanding of the idea of smart cities. The smart city programme was described as an “evolving idea” that has been built upon previous reform measures and includes creation of specialised entities such as Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs), Smart City Advisory Forum, etc., and use of digital technology for improved service delivery and governance. Specific emphasis was laid on looking at the paradigm difference in interpreting the concept (subjective vs. objective) of smart cities, and the governance challenges in implementing the smart city plans. It was reiterated that the smart cities mission should be seen as an “opportunity to reorient ourselves” through redefining the idea of smartness, prioritising what is smart (natural vs. man-made) and by integration of local wisdom with global knowledge and technology.

The session on ‘inclusive cities’ reiterated the need for understanding city needs with respect to its people and the urban poor (Bhawna Bali). Specific example of a slum clearance measure in Dharamshala was shared and its negative impacts on the lives of slum dwellers were highlighted (Manshi Asher). Stress was given on inclusive planning for poor neighbourhoods and migrant population. Also, it was suggested that the socio-economic profile of the slum population be considered in planning rehabilitation. A presentation on big data and command control centres was made to draw attention to possible negative impacts (Leon Morenas). This showed how cities are being viewed as a collection of numbers and their issues being delinked from their history and political economy. The possible misuse of sensitive information in the name of surveillance was also pointed out. Further, various aspects of education (such as the curriculum, learning outcomes, enrolment) to be considered in the making of a smart city as also smart citizens were highlighted (Shruti Taneja). Integration of ICT into school curriculum as also for teacher development and management was pointed as an important enabler to create smart schools and responsive education system.

‘Smart infrastructure and mobility’, the second session, critically examined affordable housing programmes and pointed out that the end user and their needs be considered in planning for affordable housing (Abhijit Datey). Other aspects discussed included use of local building material and technology to construct housing that is sensitive and responds to its natural landscape (Dhruv Sud). However, given the enormity of the housing shortage in the country, the need for cost effective solutions and alternative construction management technology was highlighted. Discussion also took place on building resilience in hill cities for disaster management and integrating the same with sectoral planning (Komal Kantariya). It was mentioned that settlement structure should be responsive/sensitive to its natural conditions (topography), local culture and belief systems (through involvement of people) (Sugandha). Further, due to the hilly terrain, it is important to take into account the proximity to infrastructure and resources while planning settlements.

With reference to Shimla, it was said that the urban design should be such that it helps the city rediscover its identity while becoming progressive and modern in technology use (Anshu Dadwal). Emphasis was laid on local economic development and improved tourist infrastructure. Smart urban mobility options were also discussed in this session especially with respect to hill cities, including the need for: (a) alternative transport modes such as rope ways and dedicated walking and cycling tracks; (b) traffic management measures through route planning (one-way/lane segregation); and (c) use of IT for traffic management and accident response (Deepti Jain, Hitanshu Jitshu).

The use of alternative technologies for building construction especially in cold climates for achieving energy efficiency (G. Kanagraj) was discussed during the third session on ‘smart resource management’. Innovative green solutions for mobility (solar power operated transportation), clean water (waste water  recycling, recharge water bodies)  and air (low carbon emissions through national voluntary program to reduce greenhouse emissions, green building and green product development, and creating waste free societies) were particularly highlighted (Shalini Sharma). It was emphasised that common ideas need to be debated to manage common resources (Abhishek Taneja).

The session on ‘smart governance’ again emphasised the need for provision of ICT driven citizen-centric services. The significance of evolving guidelines/policies accommodating the concerns of the hill cities and imposition of penalty to ensure rule compliance was also discussed. SMART was interpreted as Sustainable-Measurable-Achievable-Resilient-Transformation of cities. The session also brought out larger urban management issues such as citizen participation in urban governance, non/partial-implementation of important urban reforms including 74th CAA, gaps in planning and implementation of key infrastructure, non-addressal of issues such as peri-urbanisation, regional development and spatial planning (A.N. Gautam).

Further, a detailed presentation on Smart City Proposal of Shimla city by Prashant Sirkek (Joint Commissioner, Shimla Municipal Corporation) brought out key concerns requiring attention, such as ropeways, environment conservation measures (including ban on felling of trees), innovative waste management through waste to energy plants, etc.

The distinguished guests and organising committee members who shared their perspectives included Tikender Singh Panwar (Hon’ble Dy. Mayor), V.C. Pharka (Chief Secretary, Government of Himachal Pradesh-GoHP), Manisha Nanda (Additional Chief Secretary, TCP/Housing, GoHP), Prashant Sirkek (Joint Commissioner, Shimla Municipal Corporation), N.K. Negi (Chief Architect, HPPWD & Chairman, IIA-Shimla Chapter), Radu Carciumaru (Resident Representative, Heidelberg Centre South Asia), Arunava Dasgupta (Associate Professor, SPA, Delhi), Rumi Aijaz (Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation).

Over 20 prominent speakers presented their work and ideas. They represent leading institutions namely Aavishkaar, APJ College, CII, Earthjust Ecosystems Foundation, HPPWD, IIAS, Integrative Design Solutions, Sambhavana, Spidergrass Collective, TERI University, TCP Department, UNDP-MC Shimla, Municipal Corporation Shimla, etc. The workshop was attended by nearly 200 participants including planners, architects, members of civil society, academicians and students.

This report was prepared by Anuradha Yagya, Independent Development Consultant

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