India's government recently launched a plan to transform 98 of its cities into smart cities. This year 20 cities have been chosen for the upgrade, including the walled-river city of Udaipur in the Rajasthan province. To develop a plan for its ‘smart’ transformation Ramboll has worked with the National University of Singapore, to create a comprehensive water, traffic and biodiversity plan for the city.
As the world is turning ever more towards urbanisation, the number of people living in cities will continue to grow over the coming decades. This increase comes with both challenges and issues for the urban eco-system – from housing and traffic management to public health, water use and education. According to the Indian Government criteria, a smart city is one that is equipped with the basic infrastructure such that its people have a decent quality of life and live in a sustainable environment through the application of smart solutions. Smart features include, among others, proper recycling of waste, renewable energy sources, energy efficient & green buildings and smart parking and intelligent traffic management systems. The city plans will need to address the basics such that citizens have regular water and electricity supplied; proper sanitation and solid waste management; efficient public transport; and good IT connectivity, among others.
India’s Urban Development Ministry, in a bid to improve the future infrastructure outcomes, will transform 98 Indian cities to smart cities. To deliver the ‘smart’ in the smart cities, the minster has asked 37 consulting and engineering firms to develop action plans for their transformation. The action plans will be developed in consultation with local authorities and state government in relation to programmes already being implemented. The plans will contain end-to-end area development action plans and financing plans.
These actions plans will then be carefully considered with the 20 best plans to receive the first funding of around $7 billion for their development this year, with 20 to 40 cities to receive funding next year. “We are not aiming at making our urban landscape look fanciful and flashy. The prime objective is to enhance the quality of urban life by addressing deficiencies in infrastructure,” said urban development minister Venkaiah Naidu.
One of the 20 cities taking part in the first round of the programme is Udaipur. The city of around 600,000 is situated in the Rajasthan province along the Banas River. The city, founded in 1553, boasts a rich cultural heritage, yet has fallen foul to environmental degradation and traffic problems that have had a knock on effect on living conditions and inhibit tourism and growth. Increasing urbanisation is creating further strain on the city’s already taxed infrastructure.
One of the consultancy firms responsible for developing the smart city plan for Udaipur is Danish consulting firm Ramboll, supported by the National University of Singapore. The firm and master’s students from the university, leveraging expertise from its Liveable Cities Lab, first turned to desk research into Udaipur’s water systems, mobility, cultural identity, tourism and morphology. This was followed by a visit to the city, and its sites, to gain first-hand experience of the issues facing the city.
The firm sent the Director of Ramboll’s Liveable Cities Lab, Herbert Dreiseitl, as well as master's students from the National University of Singapore, to the city. The party met with, among others, the Udaipur’s Municipal Commissioner to discuss how to transform the city in the smartest way possible. “To be successful in drawing on our experiences from the Nordics and Singapore, we need to prove that it can be applied in India, and a strong understanding of the local culture and ecosystems is therefore essential. To investigate this, a pilot study, or ‘studio’ of Udaipur was initiated in conjunction with nine landscape architecture master students from the National University of Singapore.”
The focus of the efforts from the party was a redesign of policies and the built environment around water, traffic and biodiversity in the city. The project proposal, which was presented to the Municipal Commissioner as well as city officials and NGO groups at the Indian Institute of Management in Udaipur, aims at a green-blue engineering programme that redesigns the Ahar River and outflows from the city using constructed wetland and cleansing biotopes.
Neel Strøbæk from Ramboll, concludes “We have now reached an important milestone through a great collaborative effort with the National University of Singapore. And if we are successful here, there is very high potential that it will open up new opportunities since there are many Indian cities that are experiencing the same challenges as Udaipur."