Developing Smart Cities
Dr. Balmukunda Regmi
Nepal has planned to build many new cities including some smart ones. In May this year, the Government decided to make four smart satellite cities in Kathmandu Valley. Nepal has also decided to create 10 cities along the Mid-hill Highway that will turn emerging bazaars in relatively flat lands into modern urban centers. Similar plans are there to develop 10 cities along the Hulaki Highway in the Terai, southern plains. If 8 megacities are created as proposed, most of these and other existing cities will be incorporated into the framework; in papers, more people will live in urban areas. Understood literally, majority of us will be enjoying a city life, with acceptable minimum modern facilities. Then our focus would soon shift to fighting the unemployment and solving a small urban poverty. This is possible, but said easier.
To realise a fruitful urbanisation, the country needs to define what its modern cities should look like, how they will contribute to the nation’s identity and economy, how they will create an open market with zero trade barrier, how they will extend their support to the surrounding agrarian settlements, how they will achieve long-term, sustainable and environment-friendly industrialisation and become hubs of trade, education, healthcare, entertainment, and still avoid confrontation and unhealthy competition with other cities. It is also important to know how they will guarantee the safety of all people living in and visiting these cities, how they will check unorganised and organised crimes, how they will manage the welfares of the residents, putting especial emphasis on happiness index, universal coverage of the old age, diseased and handicapped, orphans and people with special needs, and how they will attract the workers, avoid the brain drain, create harmonious society with tolerable income gaps.
In present context when the whole world has shrunken into a global village, interdependency has become a norm. Yet, a city that exports its wastes to outside its boundary cannot be considered a smart city. It should make a long-term workable provision to contain its pollution including radiation, CFCs, carbon dioxide, human, organic and inorganic wastes. It should ensure it does not pollute soil, water and air. It must be economically and ecologically self-dependent. A megacity in an agricultural country like Nepal should also consider self-reliance in food and energy.
Different countries can have different developmental models; Nepal can create her own matching to her specific geospatial realities. Following are my views that Nepal can consider as tips in her urbanisation and smart developmental drive.
Begin with governance: Actually it has already started. Nepal has utilised the internet in information sharing, legalised e-tenders, gradually introduced computer billing, digital signatures, attendances, transactions via the internet. These should be made universal. E-governance can be considered achieved when the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can be integrated in delivering government services, exchange of information, communication transactions, integration of various stand-alone systems and services between government-to-citizen, government-to-business, government-to-government, government-to-employees as well as back office processes and interactions within the entire government framework. The government should focus on IT education and broadband connectivity for this.
Three pilot areas: Nepal can consider three types of smart settlements in the first phase.Taking advantage of the neighbouring China, Nepal should consider a special manually supported semi-smart zone in Rasuwagadhi. Nepal Government should talk to China for necessary financial investment. It can be linked to Chinese “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI). The major issues to be included are self-sufficient organic farming, no sales and storage of petroleum within the boundary, absolute reliance in reusable energy, zero environmental pollution, protection of clean rivers and ecosystem, a gradual shift to paperless transactions, and economic sustenance.
The second type of experiment should be carried out in a relatively small settlement bordering India. This can be done in cooperation with India. The major issues here should be export-oriented industries with foreign investment, educational and medical leadership, organic agriculture and food safety, border safety, green and clean environment, self-reliance in energy and economy, and a gradual shift to paperless transactions.
The private sector should be given an opportunity to develop a smart settlement in mid-hills, either one of those already proposed by the government or one bordering them. Such a city should not include a highway segment so that they do not have to take care of national connectivity. It should not be near the border so that the management can simply act as a domestic entity. They can negotiate with the government for land acquisition, exemption or reduction in taxes, one time government financial support, rights to overall planning of the city, including land use, industry set ups, agriculture, water, energy and waste management, health and education services, and internal security. Such city should also make sure that all of its residents get a proper employment or social security. Other features will be similar to those of the first two types of the smart settlement.
Extended phase: When lessons from the first phase are clear enough to see whether the modality of management of smart economic zones need any modifications, the smart system should be extended to all emerging cities. At the same time, old large cities should be encouraged to make necessary provisions to make themselves competitive mainly utilising their historical, demographic, cultural and locational advantages. The government should help them negotiate with their surrounding rural settlements that would help both sides enter into an integration process, resulting in availability of land for agricultural activities, water and waste management for the crowded city and advanced facilities for the development of rural areas. This approach ultimately transfers the economic and logistic responsibilities of the government to the city administration, and yet the public can get better, quick, efficient and affordable services.
The extended phase should also try to create a smart link among different cities, government portals, economy, trade and other services. Home and cross-border security, consumer rights, rights of property including intellectual property, policy consistency and stability, good governance, individual and social creativity, and justice should be reflected in the system without loopholes.
Information system: E-governance, paperless transactions and smart city are not possible without reliable information storage and backups. Information should be stored as multiple copies in multiple safe sites at considerably far distances. Practical and legal issues can arise any time in future; thus the information should be stored for practically infinitely long duration. Nepal needs to design, develop and maintain secure stores with reliable electricity supply, proof from terrorist and other intentional or non-intentional damages, under its sole jurisdictions.
Nepal has experienced some cases of theft even from people’s bank accounts through ATMs; most of the thieves have been found to be foreigners. This means we have to be aware of the hackers. We have also seen robbing of bank accounts with the involvement of employees, raising doubts towards paperless transactions. Such issues need to be properly addressed before we jump to the smart systems. Insurances should be in place to respond to such situations. Such assurances will create conducive environment to the development of smart cities.