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What Urban India Wants From Its Smart Cities


It is anything but a surprise; citizens of three out of four cities feel urban mobility (traffic/transport/parking) is among the top three issues a smart city should tackle.

Urban India has spoken most decisively about what it sees as the most pressing issue for itself. Already reeling under acute time pressure, it would like the smart cities to ease out some of it by significantly reducing its commuting woes. As many as 40 of the 51 cities (out of 98 selected smart cities) for which data is available, see traffic/transport/parking as one of the top three issues that smart cities should tackle.

Though it is being termed as a citizen poll to choose priorities for “smart cities”, it is probably for the first time that urban administrative bodies have actually gone to citizens asking them what they want; and that too, simultaneously on a nation-wide basis.

The polls are being conducted through both offline and online modes. The data presented in this report is from online polls only, as they appear in the government’s site. With an upper class skew of Internet access in India, these results may also have that skew.

Also, not all the polls were designed very well—often asking users to choose among “integrated multi-modal transport systems and “city-wide enterprise application” (See Smart Cities Implementation: Time for a few questions).

Nevertheless, they give us a very good broad indication what citizens are most concerned about in urban India. Smart city implementation is an excellent opportunity to think holistically about a city’s challenges—even though it is too optimistic to expect that smart city rollout will eliminate all, even significant amount of, such issues.


Urban Mobility, Sanitation Keywords

As highlighted above, transport/traffic/parking—half intellectually, half euphemistically called urban mobility by the government—is clearly the top issue.

For as many as 39% of the cities, this is the top issue that they want tackled. For 78% of them, it is one of the top three issues. For some cities, various aspects of it (say traffic and public transport) are independently among top three issues.  In other words, only 11 out of 51 cities for which data is available have not chosen it as one of the top three priorities. Most of them are comparatively smaller cities.

The next most important common issue among Indian cities is sanitation (drainage, solid waste management, liquid waste management etc). This aspect may not be as frequently discussed on Twitter and Facebook as say, a traffic jams, but when asked specifically about their issues, a significant number of citizens have chosen it as a top issue. Almost every one out of four cities has chosen a sanitation related issue as the top priority for their smart cities, while 57% (29 out of 51) have chosen it as one of the top three issues.

It is heartening to see environment/clean air/renewable energy occupying the third spot, albeit a distant one with just 10% selecting it as their top priority. But that is not a bad start at all.

Beyond these, the choices are different for different cities. While smaller but economically advanced cities like Bidhan Nagar, Rajkot, Chandigarh have gone for better e-governance/citizen services, cities like Agra, Bhubaneswar, Oulgaret (Puducherry) and Bihar Sharif want their cities to be developed further for tourism, Rourkela in Odisha is the only city to explicitly expect direct citizen participation in decision making.

And which cities are most unanimous in their selection of top priority? The honour goes to Kanpurwhere 84% of those who have voted in online polls want an intelligent traffic management system to be implemented by their municipal authorities, implementing smart cities, 71% of residents in Dharamshala want a multi-modal public transport system to be implemented.

To see what are the top three exact priorities for each of these cities on a map, see Smart Cities: Citizen Priorities.

These polls may have their drawbacks but they are important because they are probably the first time in independent India that such polls have taken place. And some of the broad findings—like traffic & transport and sanitation are too loud to ignore.

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