Smart cities: New generation

A smart city has a vibrant culture that attracts people to visit that place and has a quality of life and facilities for people. Feeling safe and reduction of pollution, organized traffic system, disabled friendly pedestrian pathways and well-managed cycle lanes are in place

Ever since the industrial uprising, the growth of cities’ population around the world is increasing at an exponential rate. Every hour hundreds of people move towards cities for better amenities. In this race, predominantly recognized as a rural country, Nepal is also heading towards the race of rapidly expanding cities. A World Bank report shows that the urban population growth rate of Nepal is up to 7 percent in Kathmandu Valley and with a population of 2.5 million it is considered  the fastest growing metropolitan city in South Asia.

Following the promulgation of a new constitution in 2015, people of Nepal got a chance to vote for their local representatives after 20 years. As the local election started a common slogan amongst the mayoral candidates was making their place a ‘Smart City’.  It is not easy to convince people struggling with basic critical infrastructures to fully agree with their fancy election slogans that might just bring social media controversy and  laughter.

As the term ‘Smart City’ is getting tremendous attention, most of the people might be curious to know about what it stands for. The United Nations Economic and Social Council says there is no standard definition of a smart city. There are also arguments to describe smart cities—some people claim that it is primarily technology-centric, while others claim for a better urban planning and reliable services.

On the basis of population, resource availability and urban facilities, by March 2017 there were 263 municipalities in Nepal, of which only 58 existed before 2014. This rapid growth of municipalities is one of the indicators that shows Nepal has built a basic foundation for smart cities. There is no city in the world that can be named as a 100% smart city—some cities are struggling from scratch whereas others are adding values.

A smart city has a vibrant culture that attracts people to visit that place and has a quality of life and facilities for people. Feeling safe and reduction of pollution, organized traffic system, disabled friendly pedestrian pathways and well-managed cycle lanes are in place. It has an educated inclusive society that is well informed and can take leading actions towards adopting advanced concepts of a smart city.

In China, the concept of smart cities was initiated in 2010 – identifying more than 300 cities guided towards smart city development plan. The initiative kicked off with people-centric approach endorsing a six-year  (2014-2020) National New Urbanization Plan (NNUP). The government has taken Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model involving the participation of research institutes, government institutes, citizens consent, IT services, internet companies and more.  Hong Kong is known as the premier smart city leader of Asia/Pacific for actively implementing information communications and technologies to improve citizen service effectively.

Similarly, In June 2015 the Government of India, Ministry of Urban Development endorsed smart cities—mission statement and guidelines aiming to cover 100 cities in five years’ duration 2015-16/2019-20). As its smart solutions, they will be focusing on e-governance and citizen services, energy management, waste management, water management, urban mobility and others like tele medicine/tele-education, incubation, and skill development centers.

In April 2015, the government of Nepal banned plastic bags and urged entrepreneurs to come with innovative ideas to fulfill the gap. Use of electric vehicles is highly promoted in Nepal. Currently, there are more than 14 districts in Nepal where you can use 4G services whereas mobile internet service is available almost all over the country. The 2073/74 budget has mentioned that 72 districts headquarters would be connected with high-speed fiber internet. The  budget mentions a master plan for a smart city will be developed and implemented at Palungtar, Gorkha. Similarly, 10 cities, including Dadeldhura and Lumbini, will be upgraded as modern smart cities.

No doubt, the idea of a smart city includes a wish list of infrastructures, information and communications technology and amenities. Nonetheless, in Nepal’s case our culture, tradition, natural resources are our big assets that should centrally focus on our smart cities planning. Our smart city should be disaster resistant, eco-friendly, walkable and most of our services that are manually being operated should be guided with the use of information communications and technology. Private sectors should be engaged and new entrepreneurs should get a chance to practice their innovative ideas.

It is high time the government came up with an adequate research and a guideline that ensures investment for the long-term development visions and proper timeline to accomplish set goals. We already have a few cities in Nepal that are rich in culture, tradition and local resources which attracts hundreds and thousands of tourists every year. These cities don’t need tall and fancy buildings to be considered as smart cities. If the local government understands its exclusivity and promotes its unique culture, reinforces citizen-centered decisions then it can be the most exemplary smart city of the world.

The writer is working at Kathmandu Living Labs