Envisioning the post-pandemic smart city

Source: The Hindu 

Relevance: Smart cities project requires rethinking after the Covid pandemic.


The pandemic has come as a remarkable opportunity to review the pathway for ‘smart cities’, and also other towns not on the map. Further, cities should avoid expensive technological solutions and frame their plans in an inclusive and sustainable manner.


  • The government started a journey of urban development in 2015. It was based on the belief that a select set of cities across the country could be ‘transformed’ and made smart.
  • After this, 100 smart cities were chosen through a competition among the States. The Centre would support the chosen projects and others would learn from them.
About the smart city:
  • Globally, there is no uniform definition of smart cities, and the most common features of such urban spaces are derived from concepts in the global north. 
  • They generally have a technocentric vision, with sensors everywhere, smart homes, and high levels of connectivity. 
  • There is massive and ubiquitous data collection by various agencies and a continuous flow of useful information to citizens.
Performance of Cities during the Pandemic:
  • The pandemic interrupted the lives of cities – confining people indoors for long periods. It disrupted economic processes and paralyzed vibrant urban life. 
  • As the pandemic peaked, thousands had to desperately look for emergency medical care in scarce health facilities. At the same time, the flashy smart developments built for leisure and shopping remained shuttered.
  • The Integrated Command and Control Centres (ICCCs) functioned as “war rooms” for COVID-19. They helped cities in fighting the pandemic through information dissemination, improving communication, predictive analysis, and supporting effective management.
    • However, people still struggled for information and access to medical care in several states and the national capital during the second wave of the pandemic. This shows the poor efficiency of these centers.
Building a post-pandemic smart city:
  • It should not solely focus on developing urban infrastructure. Over the years, Smart Cities Mission projects converged with other infrastructure programmes such as AMRUT and the PM Awas Yojana (Urban).
    • The latest official count shows that 5,924 Mission projects worth Rs. 1,78,500 crore have been tendered but still, robust resilience has not been developed.
  • It should be developed in consonance with the ecology and environment. This would mean a freeze on the diversion of wetlands and commons for infrastructure development. 
    • It would also involve the creation of new urban gardens and water bodies, and doing a climate change audit for every piece of infrastructure planned.
  • Cities should apportion the available road space for bicycles, which exemplifies safe travel. It would also complement expanded public transport when commuters return in big numbers to bus and urban rail. 
    • Further, focusing on Pedestrianization, biking, and building harmonious opportunities for street vending will address the criticism that smart city planning ignores the informality that marks India’s urban spaces.
  • There should be democratic planning to ensure every section of society has a voice in the process and not merely those who have digital access.
  • Cities should invest in essential modernization. This includes deployment of multiple sensors to gauge air, noise, and water pollution, provision of electronic delivery of citizen services, intelligent public transport, etc.
    • For citizens, real-time control rooms can be meaningful only if they can have a good public dashboard of information. 
    • In COVID-19 times, this means access to health alerts, vaccinations, hospital beds, and topical advice, rounded off with data on pollution, rainfall, congestion, and so on.

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