Building Smart Cities: Amitabh Kant

8 May

Excerpt from a panel session ‘Smart Cities and Economic Corridors‘ which took place at the Salwan Media One Globe 2014 Conference, held in February 2014 at The Imperial in New Delhi.

Amitabh Kant, CEO and Managing Director, Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation Limited (DMICDC)

“You know when cities were made across Europe and America, land, gas and water were all very cheaply available. And because they were cheaply available the Americans made really sprawling cities. You could live in New Jersey and travel to New York, guzzle gas all the way through – they made cities like Atlanta, where 98.2% of people travel by car and therefore the ecological footprint of Atlanta is twelve times more than that of Barcelona, both of them have roughly the same population.

Now if you want to bring down the ecological footprint of Atlanta to the level of Barcelona, whereas in Barcelona 65% of people use public transport, another 18% use either cycle or walk, but if you were to bring it down to that level, you have to literally create about 2916 new metro stations. So you have to literally destroy Atlanta and build it afresh.

Now, to my mind a smart city is one where people are able to gain out of two things. One is they are able to access their place of work very easily. And number two where, in today’s world where, when cities were made across America, digital technology was not available. It did not exist and therefore you created verticals, you created a vertical of power, you created a vertical of water, you created a vertical of safety and none of them were talking to each other. But digital technology enables everything to get connected with each other.

Therefore, since India has been a very, very reluctant urbanizer, and some of the new studies show that actually by 2030, 350 million Indians are going to get into the process of urbanization. By 2050 we’ll have 700 million Indians getting into the process of urbanization. I mean that’s like creating two and a half America’s. And therefore India needs to use technology to leap from.

A thinker, C.K. Prahalad, said that actually by the time India becomes 75 in 2022, India needs to create 500 smart cities or one million each. And therefore to my mind if India wants to grow at rates of nine to 10 percent per annum, India needs to use technology to leap frog.

Now, using technology and urbanization have basically been two different, distinct disciplines actually. So if you talk to leading global planners from across the world and say please design a smart city, its very alien to them because the smart cities concepts are all being built by the CISCO’s of the world, by the IBM’s of the world – and if you go to Korea, actually it’s the telephone companies which are driving because they have already reached 4G and therefore the business model in Korea is the ubiquitous, they call it the ubiquitous cities.

The business model of all telephone companies is actually smart cities. The two need to speak, the digital technology and the geographical planning needs to merge, they need to converge. That to my mind is really the key about converging technology with geographical planning and embedding technology in the process of geographical planning. I think this is what India needs to do.

Now what we are doing in the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor is that there is a train, which will run from Delhi to Mumbai. Today it takes 14 days for goods to reach the ports, all the goods produced in the northern part of India, cars, motor cycles, etc., take 14 days to reach the ports of India. By 2017 end there will be a new train, a container train which will carry all the goods. Goods will reach the ports within 14 hours. So from 14 days to 14 hours, that is a revolutionary shift to my mind.

This new train will open a completely new route of India and on the back of this we are developing seven new cities, completely new Greenfield cities. And this to my mind will be the key driver of growth, this will be the key driver of urbanization and in all this planning process, we have embedded technology with the geographical planning and we are treating ICT, the Information Communication Technology layer exactly like a layer of power, exactly like a layer of road, it s one of the horizontals which gets merged together, we will talk more about this, but to my mind, digital technology is, what is called a smart cities by some, smart and intelligent cities by the others, ubiquitous by the others, is what India needs to do to leap forward and leap frogging in urbanization is the way forward for India.

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