City Wrap: The costs of making our cities smart

In India, trees appear to be losing in the trees-versus-development battle as governments look to build smart cities


Bengaluru and Mumbai will have mobile phone apps integrating each city’s public transport options with local bus services. Photo: iStockphoto
Bengaluru and Mumbai will have mobile phone apps integrating each city’s public transport options with local bus services. Photo: iStockphoto

The Mint City Wrap is a curation of the most compelling stories emerging from our cities today. While the focus is on urban centres, the Mint City Wrap engages with wider geographies in the effort to connect stories with each other across places and borders.

The Guardian says trees make our lives better in unidentifiable ways. It lowers the cortisol—hence less stress—in your body.

But in India, trees appear to be losing in the trees-versus-development battle, with reports emerging in March this year that some 40,000 trees may have to be cut down to make way for a smart city in Bhopal.

Perhaps, they should see this : people have put numbers to the amount trees have helped a US city and it is not small change. It has saved Rs.1,268 crore (at today’s exchange rates) for Austin, Texas.

An answer to why the smart city mission rules are vague

Smart cities mean different things to different people, acknowledges bureaucrat Sameer Sharma, additional secretary at the ministry of urban development in Delhi, in a blog . And the big problem is, there is always a large gap between the stated rules of any government scheme and rules that people use everyday.

It is this mismatch that results in ineffectiveness of government policy. The rules of the smart cities mission were intentionally left vague to address this mismatch, Sharma says.

A US bureaucrat makes a forceful pitch for her country’s involvement in Indian programmes like the smart city mission. In a speech, the edited excerpts of which were published in Business Standard , US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs Nisha Desai Biswal says that when you are talking about economic growth in India, you are essentially talking about growth in its cities.

How do we reduce traffic?

The Times of India reports that the central government is considering measures, including disincentives on the purchase of second cars and congestion charges. The move comes at a time when the Delhi government is running the second instalment of a road rationing scheme which restricts vehicle use based on license plate numbers.

Surely, not by building more roads!

But, you can institute all the measures you want but as long as you keep increasing the amount of road space, congestion will follow, says Scroll . Delhi has a Rs.20,000 crore decongestion plan to build new roads and widen existing ones and build elevated roads among other things.

The article points out that private vehicles make less than a quarter of the trips made each day and public transport and non-motorised transport accounts for more than three quarters of all trips made. But the decongestion plan is essentially targeted at the minority.

Instead, they could spend the money on scaling up public transport, extending the reach of the metro and investing in a regional rail transit system, the article said.

The problem with instituting user charges…

…is that nobody wants to start paying them and political parties will take advantage of that.

The local Bharatiya Janata Party is protesting the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation’s move to institute user charges for garbage collection, terming it unconstitutional.

Interestingly, user charges are a key requirement of the same political party’s smart cities mission at the national level. So what is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander.

In other news

Bengaluru and Mumbai will have mobile phone apps integrating each city’s public transport options with local bus services. The app, developed by Lithuanian company Traffi, will also allow users to update the app on traffic snarls.

And the Delhi government is planning to build an elevated cycling track and stock it with bicycles in south Delhi, The Pioneer says.

A pillar of an under-construction flyover in Ghaziabad collapsed hurting some workers and a biker. Mercifully, no one was killed in the accident but this again gives us an opportunity to flog our point: why build flyovers at all?