Making Nepali cities smart
More than half of the world population is living in cities these days. Cities play a great role in shaping the economic and social development of a nation. With the increase in urban population, cities really need to perform in an efficient way for the sustainable living of city dwellers, where smart cities are proclaimed as panacea for all urban problems.
Smart city is a concept of urban development where technology is integrated with various dimensions of development for smart operation of city. It deals with social, environmental, economic, governance, infrastructural information and they all integrate together to connect citizens to any type of services in an efficient manner. These data are also used for strategic planning, policy formation, analysing and decision making process in order to meet six commonly accepted dimensions of a smart city namely smart economy, smart environment, smart governance, smart living, smart mobility and smart society.
With the increasing pace of global development, many countries are adopting the concept of smart city in their development strategy. Cities like Amsterdam, Barcelona, Seoul, Madrid, Manchester and Stockholm are setting up exemplary strategies of development. Some of them have started retrofitting of cities through various urban renewal programmes to help cities perform in smarter ways. Recently, India has also set up an ambitious vision of 100 smart cities by modernising existing cities.
But it is necessary to focus on some basic pre-requisites in the existing scenario to develop a city into smart city.
As the rapidity of development of cities is seen more in developing countries, Nepal can’t neglect this process. Kathmandu, the capital city, is undergoing rapid urbanisation for the past few decades. According to a report by World Bank in 2013, Kathmandu is one of the fastest expanding metropolitan areas in South Asia. Other cities like Pokhara, Biratnagar, Dharan, Nepalgunj are also confronting major urban growth. Along with this appear various challenges of management of urban sprawls, resilient living and providing efficient services to urban dwellers.
The concept of smart city was initiated in Nepal for the first time in 2012 by the government. Not having properly managed urbanisation in Nepal, the slogan of “Smart City” is being used on various occasions by the government, political leaders and stakeholders, regardless the clear vision and distinct approach of its development.
Recently, Government of Nepal has addressed smart city development in the budget speech of 2073-2074, with the help of rural-urban linkage, creating cities the centre of economic growth. Palungtar, Lumbini and Nijgadh are proposed to be developed into smart cities, integrating their surrounding areas. Other cities are also proposed to be developed as smart cities through master plan.
To manage the urban sprawl of the capital city, outer ring road plan has been proposed. Kathmandu metropolitan city has proposed multistory parking at New Road, Khula Manch and Lainchour , the only open spaces in core area of Kathmandu to manage the parking problem. Similarly, a park at Tinkune for green space, construction of Kathmandu view tower, converting Ranipokhari into musical water fountain, 27 km Ringroad extension, expansion of 53km road segments in Kathmandu valley, heritage walkway from Kalmochan to Teku, smart petrol pumps are some of the projects that would make Kathmandu valley a smart city. These are some handful examples of projects that government has announced for a smart Kathmandu valley.
Even if there is not a concrete theory on the increasing smartness of city, the projects proposed by government seems substandard and have neglected some basic urban entropy that is needed to be addressed. Construction of view tower in bus park area, multistory parking on the only open green spaces left may not sound smarter in the geographical and social context of the area.
Expansion of roads could have been altered by encouragement of mass public transportation, bicycle lanes and undermining of private vehicle ownership. There are problems like scarce of public toilets, dustbins for waste disposal, pedestrian friendly road, management of urban drainage, lack of green spaces prevailing in Kathmandu valley needs to be solved in the first place.
Neglecting these types of issues and focusing on technology-based development only increase the dumbness of the city and encourage socio-spatial inequality.
Similarly, there is difficulty in delivering government services in many public affairs due to lack of digitalisation of documents. A person has to wait for a month to get public service that could have been done in a day. Due to this there is not promptness and efficiency in the public services received by the general people.
Government needs to incline fully towards e-governance in order to perform smartly. Fiber-optic cable, superfast broadband and e-payment lead to smart living of people. Similarly, GIS update of each region, digitisation of all information facilitates and supports better planning, decision making and monitoring. This ensures safety and efficiency on the one hand while innovation without thoughtful oversight raises the specter of security, privacy and ethical breaches on the other. All these pros and cons seem to be undervalued while raising the slogans of smart cities recently in Nepal.
One example of how smart cities are overrated can be seen through example of India, where more people have access to mobile phone than to toilets. The approach of making a city smarter must be such that it address the problems that is being faced by the people, more than the myth of what smart city is.
Additionally, we need smart solutions in an inclusive policy framework. Equal accessibility to each urban service should be at the heart of urban planning. Smart city needs to place people at the centre. Creating a smart city when approached in incompatible way fails to address socio-cultural aspects and idea of living of people, affecting the local economy as well as socio-spatial dimensions of the city. Thus, the eloquence of smartness of city is not remedy for all the urban problems.
Development strategy must find solutions to the problems faced in creating sustainable city prior to focusing on smartness.
The writer is a Research Associate at Institute for Urban Development and Policy Research.
Published on March 6, 2018