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Make proper use of technology

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Cities are home to more than half the world’s population and this ratio is going to go up in the coming years, thanks mainly to rapid urbanisation taking place in world’s two most populous nations, viz., China and India. This will naturally put unprecedented pressure on natural resources and environment and conventional methods of administration, development and management may no longer work.

Unprecedented growth of cities will not only see population boom but also stretch the existing and future infrastructure systems beyond manageable limits. Thus, cities will not only be source of opportunities but also of many societal problems. At the same time, cities are also the world’s best laboratories for solutions. Perhaps, digital intelligence may give a fresh set of tools for doing more with less.

Today, people are more closer to technology than ever before. Smart phones have made deep inroads into the life of every human being in the country. It is no longer a tool to communicate but serves many purposes like entertainment, banking, retailing, education and so on.

Future cities and the present cities in future will not only have more buildings, roads, flyovers, vehicles, commercial complexes, etc. but also will generate oceans of data. And perhaps for all our future urban related problems, solution may lie in these data. Proper reading and analysis of these data may help the local governments to respond to fluid situations, allocate resources wisely, and plan for the future. Putting real-time information into the hands of individuals will empower them to make better decisions and play a more active role in shaping the city’s overall performance. Future cities should not only be smarter but also should become more livable and more responsive.

No doubt as urbanization grows, environmental pressures will also multiply. However, if managed properly, technology can be used to cut emissions, lower water consumption, and reduce the volume of solid waste per capita. Along with the usage of modern technology, change in mindset and a relook to the way we approach the problem also needed.

Studies have shown that building automation can lower emissions if adopted both in commercial buildings and private homes. Adoption of dynamic electricity pricing, which allows utilities to charge more when demand peaks would not only help to curb peak consumption but would help to shift load to off-peak periods. Similarly, e-hailing and demand-based microtransit, intelligent traffic signals, congestion pricing, and other mobility applications can cut emissions from traffic and also reduce congestions.

Source of most of our problems can also provide clues for their solutions. For example, Beijing reduced deadly airborne pollutants by roughly 20 percent in less than a year by closely tracking the sources of pollution and regulating traffic and construction accordingly. Thus, technology may not automatically address the causes of pollution, but it can identify the sources and provide the basis for further action.

Similarly, technology can be used for conserving water consumption also. Advanced metering systems with digital feedback messages can help to track water consumption and nudge the people to conserve water. Here also measures will be more effective if they are implemented with proper pricing strategy. With free water supply, water conservation can never be achieved. Further, by deploying sensors and analytics, the biggest source of water wastage through leakage from pipes in developing countries can be reduced substantially.

Technology should also be used to mitigate the menace of solid waste – another bye product of urbanisation. Technology can further reduce the volume of unrecycled solid waste in cities.

But there is one great threat from technology – it may widen the gap between people and government officials and create disconnect between them. Technology is often blamed for making daily life even more isolating. This disconnect can impact the city administration and reduce the implication of the measures taken by the city administration. Sense of disconnect may erupt within the community and society too which will not be a good sign for the city’s future. Remaining connected with the community should also be a part of the governance and administration. An active presence on social networks and developing interactive citizen apps could help the local governments to stay connected with the residents and remain responsive to their needs.

Often problem arises not because of the technology but through its misuse or improper use. Local governments should always guard themselves against this possibility.

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