WHAT MAKES CITIES REALLY SMART

There is no one definition for the global smart cities initiative. Difference countries provide benchmarks for various services including transportation – maximum commute time should be 30 minutes in medium-sized cities and 45 minutes in metros; water availability must be 135 litres per capita per day; 95 per cent of homes should have shops, parks, primary schools and recreational areas within 400 metres, and so on. This clearly define the concept been planned by India government. The proposed cities range from Varanasi to Dholera to Amravati, covering brownfield and greenfield areas. Benchmarks would be different for both; given lack of significant Internet penetration, brownfield smart cities cannot, for instance, focus on skyscrapers or lavish promenades first.

City planning has undergone several changes since Nigeria’s Independence, especially with movement of federal capital to Abuja and heavy investment in infrastructure by governments . In the 1960s, regional planning and the city master plan grew in importance, but stayed divorced from the complex realities of a poor, independent, post-colonial country. While urban poverty rose, master plans fetishised about leisurely, low-density, spread-out cities, and obsessed over removing slums. This “high modernism” resulted in plans for newer cities. The Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, which were further divided into Federal Ministry of Housing and Urban Development with Works standing alone. Urbanisation was expected to grow along those initiative and across the country.

Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja were especially planned to represent modern Nigeria, emblems of “a new town, a symbol of Nigeria’s freedom, unfettered by traditions of the past”. A ‘garden city’ with no high-rise buildings, Abuja’s wide boulevards broke the city into self-sufficient sectors, promoting liveability and exclusion.
However, the structure had its failures. Abuja’s urban planning was defined by an “absence of local authority, a lack of understanding of the local culture and values on the part of the planners, and the history of the region.” (The Natives). In a survey of 10 cities in the Annual Survey of Nigeria’s City Systems (CED Magazine 2013), Kano and Port Harcourt came close to the bottom in quality of life. Ibadan scored low in urban capacities and resources as well as in transparency, accountability and participation.

Over time, national plans grew more reactive, and stuck to managing things as they were. A desire for better, cleaner, inclusive cities remained unfulfilled. We created more slums than building cities new cities.

The idea of a smart city, for most of the 20th century, was science fiction. But cities can now integrate critical infrastructure such as roads, rails, subways and airports; optimise resources better; and plan preventive maintenance. Given Nigeria’s finance crunch, any smart city we plan should focus first on three things: urban transportation, e-governance and land titling.

Urban Transportation
For a sustainable city, public transport has to be the main artery. With metro systems viable only in large cities across the world and not in existence in Nigeria, integrated bus services will be primary. While the National Urban Transport Policy is long overdue. Even Lagos, with its extensive metro project in the work, faces significant gaps in its efforts to provide cross-sectional connectivity, with just few BRT buses. Lagos bus services continue to be hamstrung by limited or declining fleet sizes, loss-making services, inadequate resources, poor service quality and ignorance about modern vehicle technology.

Cities should design bus routes to ensure multi-modal integration. A city-level Lagos Unified Metropolitan Transport System, backed by legislation, should facilitate coordinated planning and implementation of transport projects. We need an intelligent software to improve systems for vehicle location, collecting online fares, priority signalling for buses, and real-time bus information. Cities should also set up Traffic Information Management Control Centres for effective enforcement and monitoring of traffic rules.
Financing this will require significant restructuring. A dedicated Urban Transport Fund, as seen in some countries in the western world, even in India, should seek to generate inflows through advertisement revenue, additional vehicle registration fees and congestion taxes to fund new projects. A special purpose vehicle (set up in collaboration with the municipal corporation, city and private players), could manage bus operations.

Better e-governance
The Nigerian government has experimented with various e-governance initiatives, most of which have failed to materialise, given poor cyber security and significant privacy and data protection risk. But the implementation of a secure ICT Infrastructure, comprising wireless hotspots, wi-fi networks, and fibre optic Internet delivery at home, remains fundamental.

E-governance could learn from these examples. The U.K.’s “Tell us Once” service allows citizens to inform public authorities about birth, death or significant life events just once. San Francisco’s DataSF.org displays public transportation arrival and departure times, recycle zones, crime patterns and more. Service requests for pothole repairs can be tweeted. Sweden has verksamt.se, both for entrepreneurs and for citizens to use theme-based portals on healthcare, taxation, etc. All procurement and invoicing is conducted electronically, restricting corruption.

Land titling
Providing affordable housing remains a critical challenge. This has been exacerbated artificially by poorly conceived Central, State and local government regulations, leading to land prices that are much higher than intrinsic levels. Urban development projects still have to undergo a lengthy approval process – developers have to spend 6 months getting permissions from nearly 10 departments.

Titling issues and the lack of property rights information make this worse. While the law requires compulsory registration of the sale of land, it does not ask the registration authority to verify land history or ownership from the seller, weakening buyer protection and acting more as a fiscal instrument for the state, instead of a statutory support of certainty to title. Cities recognise presumed ownership to land, a questionable claim, which can be challenged on many fronts.
A smart city would provide formal digitised recognition of property titles, along with increasing transparency and registered brokers, cutting down long search times and high costs of acquiring real estate. A less cumbersome process of accessing land records through the Department of Registration would increase its use, while helping to show actual transaction prices. Further, land inventory needs to be mapped comprehensively, and be accessible to buyers.
Globally, many countries offer streamlined online processes and incentives to facilitate affordable housing – these can include tax deductions, density bonuses, direct subsidies, land grants, land use changes etc. Many countries such as Malaysia and Canada have revamped their administrative requirements through fee waivers and fast-tracking procedures.

Smart cities can make daily life easier for residents simply by automating routine functions, and providing a basic transportation and housing network.

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