Geospatial information - Making a 'smart city' really smart

Date:   Tuesday , January 17, 2017

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In his book, \'The Rise and Fall of Nations\', author Ruchir Sharma posits that the number of new cities is a benchmark for the growth of a nation. Countless studies point to the rise of mega cities and cities across the world. Discussions around urban sustainability \'smart cities\' gained significance in this context. The definition of \'smart city\' is fuzzy, not always consistent and has no single template. However, one would agree that a smart city must enable integration of human, physical, and digital systems operating in the built environment and development of predictive models which hold the promise of improving the quality of life, improving the governance and making cities prosperous, inclusive, sustainable and resilient. Data and information form the bedrock of such integration and fundamentally a smart city is one that unifies data from a wide range of sources - authoritative data sources, embedded sensors, public services, citizen reports, telecom companies, and more - to generate actionable intelligence for decision-making.

ICT and Geospatial Data

The growing role of ICT in facilitating this integration of data has uplifted the significance of location/geospatial/map data and technology to the next level. Thanks to GPS, consuming location and creating location data on handheld and mobile devices has become a common practice. Prior to GPS, accurate location was determined by human-intensive survey process. Satellite imagery and aerial imagery are also key techniques to create location/geospatial information.

Geospatial technology facilitates the capture of such detailed data from a broad range of inputs; present data in a user-friendly, intuitive map formats; presents an opportunity to dynamically maintain data in real time; and allows individuals to input additional information, creating a platform for innovation. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) applications are enabling analytical capability through feature-based modelling of environments. Location/geospatial data have a range of applications across sectors, but hold particular promise to help achieve government\'s ambitions around smart cities.

GeoSmart City

According to an independent 2015 study conducted by Dalberg Global Development Advisors in association with CII and Google, smart maps (geospatial data) can help India gain upwards of $8 billion in savings and value, save 13,000 lives, and reduce 1 million metric tons of carbon emissions a year, in cities alone. The study estimates that the broader economic and social impact of smart maps is likely many times greater. While this is a tremendous growth opportunity, challenges abound.

Indian cities are complex with residential and commercial spaces supported by foundational infrastructure like power, water, roads, sewage, schools, religious bodies and hospitals. Departments managing these facilities and urban governance bodies have been generating huge amounts of citizen data over the decades. However, this data is not in a state of right fit to provide the necessary critical insights to support decision making and planning. Geo-enabling this data gives that connect and makes one understand what is where so that cities can measure and monitor every aspect effectively.

The significance of geospatial data in a city implementation is already established through certain initiatives in India, in piecemeal though. As part of the Urban Renewal Mission, Government of India implemented a scheme to upgrade the City GIS and improve the services. 213 towns / cities of different categories underwent such changes through an improved GIS based property tax management system. Karnataka went a step further by implementing Urban Property Ownership Records Project (UPOR) in select cities. Under this project, properties within the municipal jurisdiction were mapped, digital property cards prepared and digital services provided. This single window G2C, G2G, G2B system is to be integrated with registration department, judiciary, municipalities and financial institutions to bring in transparency.

Barcelona decided to build an urban system that is data-driven and geo-enabled to beat economic recession. The city identified 12 areas for intervention and initiated 22 programs. Smart meters enabled energy efficiency and optimized energy consumption. Smart-water system achieved a 25 percent increase in water conservation, saving $555,000 per year. The IoT systems helped save $58 million on water, increased parking revenues by $50 million per year, and generated 47,000 new jobs. Through smart lighting, the city saved $37 million annually. Barcelona is rated world\'s Top Smart City in 2015.

Geospatial is Core

A look at India\'s Smart City Mission and AMRUT program documents reveal that geospatial is either implicit or recommended as an add-on. However, a section of experts believes that the investments pumped into smart cities will deliver results only if the urban local bodies (ULBs) take a holistic approach to improve services and attain financial self-sufficiency. Also, today\'s challenge of city authorities operating in \'silos\' can be eliminated with geospatial technology which facilitates collaborative engagement. This will be possible if geospatial becomes the core of ULB functioning integrating with all functions - ICT based and others.