The Remaining Gap Between 'Smart Cities' Ambition and Reality
Hugh Byrd revisits an ambitious proposal by the Indian Government to build 100 "smart cities," with a case study provided by a development in Mumbai known as Bhendi Bazaar. The 40- to 60-story towers that will replace three- to five-story townhomes have been described as "vertical with a vengeance" in its approach to density.
Byrd, however, has analyzed the project's plans using an Urban metabolism model, "which measures the impacts of the built environment, we have assessed its overall impact."1
Our research shows that the proposal is neither smart nor sustainable.
The Indian government clearly defined what they meant with “smart”. Over half of the 11 objectives were environmental and main components of the metabolism of a city. These include adequate water and sanitation, assured electricity, efficient transport, reduced air pollution and resource depletion, and sustainability.
We collected data from various primary and secondary sources. This included physical surveys during site visits, local government agencies, non-governmental organisations, the construction industry and research.
We then made three-dimensional models of the existing and proposed developments to establish morphological changes, including building heights, street widths, parking provision, roof areas, open space, landscaping and other aspects of built form.
Demographic changes (population density, total population) were based on census data, the developer’s calculations and an assessment of available space. Such information about the magnitude of the development and the associated population changes allowed us to analyse the additional resources required as well as the environmental impact.2
This paper reports on a detailed analysis of the metabolism of the Island City of Mumbai should the Indian Government’s proposal for ‘smart’ cities be implemented. It focuses on the environmental impact of increased population density achieved by demolishing existing medium-rise (3-5 storey) housing and replacing it with the proposed high-rise (40-60 storey) towers. The resulting increase in density places a burden on the demand on such things as electricity and water and simultaneously increases the output flows of drainage, solid waste and greenhouse gas production.
An extended urban metabolism analysis is carried out on a proposed development in Mumbai (Bhendi Bazaar) that has been put forward as an exemplar case study by the Government. The flows of energy, water and wastes are calculated based on precedents and from first principles. The results of the case study are then extrapolated across the City in order to identify the magnitude of increased demands and wastes should the ‘smart’ city proposals be fully realised.
Mumbai is the densest city in the world. It already suffers from repeated blackouts, water rationing and inadequate waste and sewage treatment. The results of the study indicate, on a per capita basis, increasing density will have a significant further detrimental effect on the environment.