Smart Cities: Daydream Or Reality?

Uttam Maharjan

The government has been planning for construction of smart cities since the fiscal year 2015-16. The Cabinet decided to build four smart cities in four different corners of the Kathmandu Valley in May 2017. The talk of smart cities has assumed epic proportions nowadays. The Kathmandu Valley is chaotic with a high population density and poor amenities. Rampant migration to the Valley from other parts of the country in search of a better and glittery life has made it a shambolic place to live in. The Valley lacks necessary infrastructure and is suffering from haphazard urban growth, deteriorating living conditions. As such, the denizens of the Valley are beset with myriad problems. Still, migration to the Valley has not dwindled. The plight the Kathmandu Valley is in at present is due mainly to the attitude of apathy and nonchalance of the successive governments. Had the areas outside the Ring Road been planned properly long before, the Kathmandu Valley would not have faced the plight as it is doing now.

Ambitious plan
The Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) has unveiled a highly ambitious plan to develop Kathmandu as a smart city. The KMC has, in its policy and programmes for the forthcoming fiscal year 2018-19, also unveiled other plans, which are part of a smart city. The KMC is studying the process of developing horizontal and vertical parking systems so as to ease traffic congestion and upgrade transport systems. The KMC has initiated the process of building a multi-storey parking lot at New Road. The KMC is also conducting a study of building underground parking lots at Tundikhel and Lainchaur.
Further, the KMC has planned to construct 50 smart and electronic public toilets within a year. Such toilets will be coin-operated and disabled-friendly. The KMC is also planning to import high-tech fire engines for all wards of Kathmandu. Plans are also afoot to make Kathmandu a no-mask city by depolluting the city. Similarly, there is a plan on the anvil to promote tech-based hoarding and develop a mobile app to handle public grievances. A feasibility study is also in the offing to develop metro rails, monorails, trams and cable cars in Kathmandu so as to upgrade urban transport systems.
The Ministry of Urban Development has also developed and implemented the National Development Strategy, 2017 for balanced urban development. The local bodies are entrusted with designing their local areas and mapping out smart cities. Such designs developed by the local bodies will help map out overall smart cities. While mapping out smart cities, various factors need to be taken into consideration. The factors would include population, geographical location, urban activities, risk factors, both present and future, vulnerabilities and so on.
The concept of a smart city has been the major development agenda for developing and least developed countries in recent times. And Nepal is no exception. During the elections to the provincial and federal elections, various political parties made ‘smart city’ one of the burning agendas of their election manifestos.
A smart city is marked by advanced infrastructure, information and communication technology (ICT), operational efficiency, availability of all amenities to citizens, etc. The hallmarks of a smart city are smart economy, smart mobility, smart governance, smart environment, smart people and smart living. A smart economy is characterised by a highly productive economy and an innovative mechanism of delivery of goods and services. Smart mobility ensures reduction of pollution, traffic congestion and transfer costs and enhances people’s safety. Under smart governance, advanced ICT is used to improve the government service delivery system and citizens are involved in formulating and implementing policies pertaining to public welfare and interests.
A smart environment is all about improving the environment by reducing carbon footprints, constructing green buildings, developing green energy and formulating green urban planning. Smart people are well-educated and aware of their capacity to develop cities in an appropriate way. They also form inclusive society. Last but not the least, smart living denotes an vibrant lifestyle with proper facilities to enhance the quality of life.
However, for underdeveloped countries like Nepal building smart cities is like a hard nut to crack. There are several constraints that stand in the way of developing smart cities. In the first place, a huge amount of finances is required to build smart cities. For cash-strapped countries like ours, it will be difficult to mobilise funds on their own. The state of infrastructure development in the country is not sound. Basic amenities like drinking water, sanitation, health, education and transport, for example, are in a shambles. Another factor that acts a setback is illiteracy. Although the government is carrying out literacy programmes across the country, the number of illiterate people, especially in the rural areas, is still high. As a smart city is generally based on ICT and other technologies, people are supposed to be computerate and cyberate (Internet literate) as well.
From the above, it follows that it will take time for the country to develop smart cities. However, the government should not retract from its project of developing smart cities in Kathmandu. The government should take the Kathmandu project as a pilot project and replicate such projects in other parts of the country. While designing smart cities, the government should heed the relevant plans formulated by the local bodies as they have better knowledge of local areas. The current style of doing development works, which is sluggish and far from cost-effective, should be changed. What is important in this regard is that the government should pay heed to preserving archaeological and cultural aspects while developing smart cities so that the country’s heritages are not affected in the name of development.

Momentum
There are doubts lurking in the minds of the people that the government will build smart cities as it tends to announce ambitious plans and shelve them. But it is not impossible to build smart cities. What is needed is the will on the part of the government. If the government has the will, development works will pick up momentum on an unprecedented scale. So the government should speed up the foundation works required for building smart cities without any delay so as to win back the confidence of the people.

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