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How to live in a Smart city

Every time I travel abroad I feel with growing anguish that with each passing day our standards are slipping. The gap between us and the developed world is large and (unfortunately) appears to be widening all the time. At this rate I am afraid we are destined to remain stuck with the moniker of ‘underdeveloped nation’ forever.

We are no longer either poor (although we have large masses of poor people) nor incapable of being efficient. So, what accounts for our sorry state of affairs? I think it is our self-destructive mind-set. I am just back from the European Neuro Congress in the Spanish city of Barcelona and the visit was an eye-opener.

Driving to the spectacular convention centre where 3200 delegates from across the world assembled, I marveled at the city’s spotlessly clean roads, dedicated lanes for cars, motorcyclists and cyclists and wide pavements for pedestrians. Every detail around Barcelona, despite Spain’s recent economic strife, bespoke of a city wedded to a culture of excellence, involving large collective resolve.

I saw professionals working for the government going around collecting feedback about every aspect of the city from a tourist perspective—to me this was an unprecedented experience. It was not only an eye opener but left my mouth open in awe. These people were spending time collecting information under no compulsion other than a sense of belonging and ownership…I wonder whether we will ever see such belongingness in our cities.

To make a city smart it is important for both its Citizens and Rulers to first own the city. We all know that air pollution, water contamination and unhygienic, adulterated food are the main cause of communicable diseases. And yet we do precious little to clean up our cities.

Travelling around Barcelona, a city famous for its champion football team, I saw closed trash containers neatly placed along all roads–different containers for different kinds of waste. The trash is systematically collected from these containers by mechanised trucks with No spillage.

Dry leaves are swept off the roads with machines by people. Nobody, including children, ever dirty the roads. All the waste is dropped into its appropriate container, which is then effectively collected and safely disposed by government agencies.

Despite having so many people, the Swatch Bharat Scheme has hardly made an impact on our cities and for all its hype, the Garden City remains in large parts a Garbage City. A citizen initiative wherein we volunteer to buy and manage waste containers could go a long way towards cleaning up the city. The government could support such an initiative with tax incentives and most importantly putting in place a safe and adequate garbage disposal system. This is essential for our health and the health of our children.

Barcelona has a law by which all buildings on street corners have a curved shape; this helps in making the circles wider and improves the visibility of the corners, making the roads much safer. The wide, sloping pavements are designed for the comfort of pedestrians and to support the drainage system. There are ramps at all corners for motorised wheel chairs. The smooth roads slope away on either side feeding rain water through drainage grills that line all the streets. The roads are paved with asphalt edge-to-edge to ensure there is no collection of mud anywhere. It is wonderful to see how everyone sticks to his well-marked designated lane even on narrow roads. The adherence is total even at middle of the night. The traffic signals function round-the-clock.

If we made up our minds nearly all of this can be a reality in our cities too. Obviously we don’t respect or love ourselves, nor others or the city that we Live In. We waste resources and care very little for the law, all of which make our cities not just dirty but among the most dangerous.



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