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Smart Cities Risk Curtailing Potential by Prioritising Technology over People: JLL

A human-centric approach to developing smart cities, innovative financial solutions to attract the private sector, and elimination of bureaucratic bottlenecks will lead to Smart City Mission’s success, reports JLL

Smart Cities initiatives in the Asia Pacific will not reach their potential if they focus on delivering cutting-edge technologies without paying enough attention to the needs and experiences of citizens. And a broader collaboration among various stakeholders such as government agencies, technology vendors and users, is desired to drive these missions successfully, real estate consultant JLL says in its latest report which has been written in partnership with Charles Reed Anderson & Associates, a global expert on IoT, smart cities and proptech.

The report – Smart Cities Success: Connecting People, Proptech and Real Estate – also highlights the opportunity for a more human-centric approach to smart city development, which promotes inclusiveness, efficiency, sustainability and transparency. It says that as the real estate industry catches up with technology, it could bridge the gap between smart city solutions and the physical spaces where people work, live, and play.

“Cities are unleashing technologies such as the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence to solve some of the pressing problems of urbanisation – whether it’s traffic or waste disposal or public safety. This has the potential to change the way we live and work, as well as how we interact with the buildings and infrastructure in our cities. These innovations hold particular promise in the Asia Pacific where city populations are growing rapidly,” says Ramesh Nair, CEO & country head at JLL India. “India’s Smart Cities Mission needs a similar approach.”

India’s $30-billion Smart Cities Mission was launched in 2015 to improve sustainability, provide affordable housing, and tackle other issues to ensure a ‘citizen-friendly’ environment across 100 cities. It has been hailed globally as a bold and necessary step to cope with India’s rapid urbanisation. After four years of drive and some 5000 projects, there have been significant breakthroughs, Nair reports.

“Under the second term of the current government, the Mission is sure to get a significant push in terms of investments and project level developments. This would lead to the overall success of the mission. We believe precincts built on a combination of technology and human experience are sure to operate more efficiently for occupiers and can deliver a premium for investors due to lower operating costs and better yields.”

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The report, however, points out that regulatory hurdles may prove to be a deterrent to growth. Bureaucracy is another key stumbling block. Given that cities are large and complex, smart city initiatives can succeed only if governments are open to experimentation and willing to invest time and resources in learning from missteps. Limited availability of data and reluctance to share whatever data is available are other challenges. Capacity building remains a significant hurdle due to change-averse mindsets and a shortage of technical training and a lack of skill-building. “Additionally, coordination among various stakeholders is hindered by the presence of multiple government bodies that have overlapping jurisdictions, programmes and resources,” Nair adds.

Moreover, special purpose vehicles created to “plan, appraise, approve, release funds, implement, manage, operate, monitor and evaluate the smart city development projects” are often at odds with the local government, leading to poor governance, significant tension at ground level, and hampered implementation.

“Better coordination among all stakeholders will ensure that funds are properly used to get projects off the ground. Thus, a collaborative approach will help the Mission. Our research shows that real estate is a crucial element in the future of smart cities, and our clients are asking us how they can ensure the buildings they occupy or invest in will be future-ready. Here government bodies and the private sector, which represent diverse interests, can collaborate and address the challenges in a meaningful manner,” says Nair.

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