TODAY -

Lavasa, India's first Smart City

Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh *



Since I wrote about green concerns of a smart city, many articles have appeared in the local papers as well as in the national dailies. The informed citizens are very much concerned what could be the shape of the smart city when the national mission on smart city is actually translated in to action and the dream of the PM becomes a reality. It is really a good sign.

There are so many concerns to be taken care of, there are feelings that an actual smart city could be utopian in concept, not possible to be actually materialised in true sense. My daughter after reading my article "Green Concerns of smart Cities" (TSE, Nov 26, 2015)suggested that I should visit Lavasa, a city near Pune at a distance of 56 km. I had a chance to visit the city recently.

Lavasa is developed to be a city with an initial area of 32km2 on a hill landscape of Western Ghats. It has been proposed to be a conglomerate of five townships, of which two have been completed. The city was a Rs. 40,000/- crores project. After full construction, it is to accommodate two lakhs people (please see the man-land ratio).

The city authorities and tour operators claim it to be the first smart city of the country. The local people are proud about the city, my cab driver was like a tourist guide, he claimed it to comparable to many modern smart cities, claiming LAVASA to be an abbreviation of London, Ankara, Vancouver, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Athens (or Auckland), could be an propagandist idea fed to the local people.

Experts opined that the city is based on the Italian town Portofino, with a street and several buildings bearing the name of that town. The artificial lake was created by the Varasgaon Dam, to create the exotic looking waterfront which is an attraction for the tourists.

There are theories that the smart cities should be economically sustainable. In Lavasa, the economic mainstay is planned to be tourism and education (by its creator AjitGulabchand) and of course retail markets. As the city is not yet in its full form, only tourism seems to have picked up the tempo, not the others. One care that needs to be taken is that the city hubs need to be isolated from main economic centres of retail and wholesale outlets.

In Jonkopping City of Sweden (second largest city of Sweden), the main shopping centres and Supermarkets (IKEA Retail Supermarkets) of the city are five km away from the city limitsto ease out unnecessary congestions and there are good public transport for that, very punctual public bus for every five minutes, accurate almost to the second.

The idea is that city citizens should be free from traffic delays, vehicular pollution and noise pollution. The pedestrians and cyclists should have separate pathways. "Citizens residing here can enjoy the walk to work lifestyle," said Lavasa Corporation President RajgopalNogja.In economic front, the Lavasa City promises 50,000 jobs for first ten years. The plan is to sustain its economy through tourism and education. The city combined with Lonavla could be a good touristspackage not so far off from Mumbai and very close to Pune, which is another clean city and an academic hub.

There are also other issues of clean water, healthcare and green energy, but these are basic needs, whether smart city or not, they are to be available. So they are not discussed at length, so I am confining to the Green Concerns, Economic activities, Digital Application and mobility. Because, these elements are important for the comfort of the residents, which is a priority in a smart city.

The solutions for economic and environmental sustainability, e-governance, security, waste management are going to be core issues. So now, we can see the city from the point of standard parameters of a smart city: There have been many controversies shrouding this smart city, political and environmental controversies, which have even slowed down the progress.It is true that we often discount the role of the nature in maintaining the environmental stability and sustainability while planning any development programme, though we all speak about protecting our environment.

The high rising buildings nonetheless, it gives an impression of being a clean city, but it is still could be short of being smart in true sense, I feel that the claim of being the "first smart city of the country" seems to be more with a marketing strategy. Lavasa is also claimed to be again first planned hill station, of course for a claim of being a smart city, it is to be a well-planned city.

In smart cities, let me tell you in lighter vein that everything should be smart; smart living, smart use of water and power, smart travelling, smart exercise, smart disposal of waste, smart governance, smart parking, smart businesss, smart crime control so on and so forth. To be fair, it can be said that this smart city has touched some of the smartness. We also must appreciate the concept which was started fifteen years back, a brainchild of Ajit Gulabchand. The city has already been honoured with "Best City Initiative" award by an organisation in Jaipur.

Take home from Lavasa for me is that out of ailing urban conglomerates, it would be difficultto convert any of them in to a real smart city, except in some where retrofitting and redevelopment are possible and where there are scope for expansion. We can make a city tourism smart or IT smart, but for having all the components, it shall be better on a new land, earmarking all the required components in a planned way, which would be difficult in the existing cities.

That way, Lavasa is a futuristic city, can be made in to a smart city. For being a tourist destination, it can well compete with the present hill stations like Nainital, Shimla and Ooty due to its proximity to Mumbai, Pune and other central Indian Cities.


* Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on Janaury 17, 2016.


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