Smart Cities In A Post-Covid World

first_imgIn 2015, as the government launched the ambitious Rs.98,000 crores “100 Smart Cities” mission, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who could predict the state of the world five years later. The global pandemic, in a matter of weeks, brought the world to a halt. Economic activity was scarce barring essentials and medical supplies, transportation came to a halt as everyone began to work from home.Smart cities are inherently forward-looking. In 2018, the United Nations in a report stated that “68% of the world population projected to live in urban areas by 2050”. The whole concept of a smart city revolves around people being mobile, moving from one place to another within a city using transportation and other services. This means large groups of people moving in crowds through transport hubs like subway and metro stations. Needless to say, that isn’t ideal now.Smart city technologies are being used in the current pandemic. In many countries, state and local government are using smart city technology in their fight against the coronavirus – tracking the spread and contact tracing are just a couple of ways in which this is being done. Take South Korea for example; starting in March, they used their “Smart City Data Hub” to obtain data about confirmed cases and people through travel information and CCTV footage. This was done in combination with mass testing which ensured that the case count remained low. However, this also brought up privacy and civil liberty issues which is a larger issue for Smart Cities in general. On the role that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) played in South Korea’s strategy, Hyung Min Kim, Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning, University of Melbourne, Australia observed the following –“South Korean approaches demonstrated the role of ICT through surveillance technology such as CCTVs, the tracking of credit/debit cards, and mobile phone location data, while other more socially laissez-faire countries primarily implemented the restriction of personal mobility.  However, the exposure of personal information was inevitable when using the tracking of patients.”Closer to home, in Karnataka, a dedicated call Centre was set up to monitor and advise citizens who were under self-quarantine; this was done under the Mangaluru Smart City project. Another similar example is in Madhya Pradesh where the government operates an integrated command and Control Centre (ICCC) in Bhopal.Will things change going forward, given the nature of the pandemic the world is in? In some ways yes. Ultimately, a smart city is meant to accomplish the following – effective use of city resources, energy efficiency, making cities safer and engaging with citizens. Broadly speaking, these might not change going forward. However, with climate change and public health being at the forefront, there might be some modifications and steering towards some key tenets when it comes to conceptualizing and implementing smart cities.Taking the word smart out of the equation for a moment, the fundamental components of a city, i.e. infrastructure, transportation, people, civic services etc, they all need to work in relative harmony to keep a city functioning. For a smart city, going forward, some things may change. Take a common example of work. With many now working from home, additional technologies now come in place in lieu of large scale offices and workplaces. Meagan Crawford, Executive Director of Urban Economic, in a column, provides some insight –“With new ways of working and living and the continued need to adhere to social distancing guidelines, it’s impossible to return to a state of ‘business as normal’. Covid-19 has not only highlighted the flaws of having large numbers of people working in close proximity but also shows the genuine potential of distance and home working. In the longer term, this opens the possibility of a reformed business structure, where companies could move into smaller, on-demand styled workspaces.”Going forward, what changes could we see in smart cities? Will there be a slowdown or reluctance in investing in smart cities? Much will depend on the state of the world economy and its path to recovery. Some of this depends on the biggest economies – China, the United States, EU and India. In the United States, for example, the growth in the number of smart city projects will dim in the current and following year. In Canada, Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs had an ambitious smart city plan for Toronto which was scrapped in May.The Oxford Business Group cited the International Data Corporation’s Worldwide Semiannual Smart Cities Spending Guide which projected global spending on smart cities to be $124bn in 2020. Its possible that this could slow down in the following year with countries increasing expenditure on public health keeping in mind procurement of a vaccine for covid-19. For India, which is currently experiencing the worst of the pandemic, economic recovery will take some time. Future smart cities may need to change in terms of rethinking public transportation, the flexibility of public spaces given the high population density of the country among other things.The coming months are uncertain in more ways than one. However, governments need to plan and strategize on how smart cities of the future can better help citizens if there we are to have a similar crisis in the future. It will take a lot of investment in planning and finances but the benefits of smart cities in a post-covid world should greatly outweigh the costs.last_img read more