India's Smart Cities Mission: looking at global peers

In one of the most ambitious urbanization initiatives ever, India has launched its Smart Cities Mission, looking to drive billions of dollars into infrastructure improvements in 100 different cities over the next five years. It aims to accelerate a variety of digital technology upgrades as well as leverage public dollars to attract private investment into infrastructure projects.

There are unique economic differences across India’s cities and this fact needs to be taken into account along with a coordinated approach by the country’s central, state and local governments. Municipalities should emulate the practices already pursued by global peers and adapt their strategies considering local industrial specialties and development conditions as they assume greater control over future infrastructure plans and investments, in cities like Ajmer, Allahabad and Vizag.

Insights from global markets

Levels of output, income and employment can be compared to determine which global markets are economically similar to these three Indian cities which are prioritized in the Smart Cities Mission. Through a cluster analysis, it was found that nine markets from different continents provide good examples for India’s leaders to analyse the potential impacts of various infrastructure projects.

The analysis shows how much India’s urban economic development lags behind global peers, even when compared to other emerging markets, in terms of per capita GDP. India’s cities are focused on commodity-intensive industries, which can explain the wealth discrepancy. An expansion of higher-paying advanced manufacturing and service industries is required to create more individual wealth, and this can be achieved through catalysts like broadband infrastructure and reliable electricity.

The aforementioned three cities are also behind their global counterparts in terms of infrastructure developments – less than 80% of households have piped water and fewer than 90% have toilet access. Improving sanitation is therefore a pressing priority, as economic potential cannot be maximized without a healthy population – a similar situation can be seen in Durban, South Africa. Brazil can be taken as an example for efforts to expand reliable electricity access and phone lines.

Cities like Barcelona, Chicago, or Singapore – typically found on smart city ‘best of’ lists – do not share the economic and infrastructure challenges found in Indian cities. They usually lead in advanced industrial development and cutting-edge infrastructure, which is hard to replicate in India, even with the most advanced technologies – the more important consideration is matching the objectives, but this needs to be done though measures that are realistic and well-adapted to local economic priorities. Public and private leaders in India should look beyond individual projects and look at places with similar challenges and opportunities to measure progress over time.




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