Saturday, September 5, 2015

Tel Aviv & Pune; Understanding Smartness!

Smartness is not about modern technology but using it to make our surrounding a better place… Mr. Johar Sharon

For those who don’t know Mr. Johar, let me introduce,        Mr. Johar Sharon, Chief Knowledge Officer (A post which is unheard of in our city’s any organization leave apart PMC), Tel Aviv Municipal Corporation. I don’t know him personally but I was one of the thousands of listeners at his presentation about how they made Tel Aviv, world’s best smart city! The event has been organized by Sakal news paper which was part of their many social events which in itself is one of the aspect of smart city; as it was intended to make this city a better place & for that gathering knowledge across the globe is important! Presently right from media to govt administration to politicians, seems to be engulfed by the just one thought & that is smart city. It sure is success of the concept as if everyone is so aware about the concept then yes the dream surely seems achievable at least at the presentation which was attended by every who’s who of the city that is associated with the subject. Right from NGO’s to Corporates to Bureaucrats to Politicians to Media & even common people of society & Students too were there! It’s a real public forum & its again good sign as people wanted to know about smart city as right now Smart City resembles with the story of Elephant & Blind Men i.e. each person defining the elephant by the part which he has touched. I too was the part of that crowd at event & thanks to my little bit traveling & exposure to many wise minds, associated to the field of urban planning have my own views on the subject!

Ok let’s see what I got from the presentation first; the presentation frankly was very simple, to the point & for many who don’t know but Tel Aviv is  lot smaller is size & population  than Pune i.e. with population of mere 4 to 5 lacs, which is one tenth of Pune. It is densely populated & what they made to make it smart is use of their resources only with backup of technology. Mr. Johar explained how the journey started & they did study other cities like Barcelona in Spain which have achieved smartness for their citizens. Mainly they indentified three fronts & it’s all about inter relationship i.e. interactions or let’s say interface between Citizens to Citizens, interaction between Govt to Citizens & third is interaction between Govt to Govt! And the target was to achieve reduction in cost of living which automatically includes time saving between each such interface. For e.g. someone wants to enroll birth of a new born so all should be done online or with minimum documentation & then this data will be shared with all the concerned departments so no one has to follow each other for the information, which is a common case at our end. Second important part is they realized the importance of data & all sort of data I mean i.e. right from how many numbers of bicycles are there in the city too how many kids are there in their teens everything they stored & used this data to formulate the policies like use of spaces within the city to traffic management!

Then was making every individual citizen of Tel Aviv aware about smartness & identifying the problematic zones & accepting one thing, MC i.e. municipal corporation is not going to solve all the problems so make the citizen participate in the municipal corporation as much they can; right from deciding the budget allocation to use of the spaces! And yes this was done through elected members so here the elected members put the city interests above the individual’s interests & that’s the only way to assure their winning the next elections! So everyone is responsible for the city & more important is everyone understood this & responded! Then comes the way the MC should satnd to the expectations of the citizens as they are indirectly a service provider so they themselves need to be proactive than just reactive to the suggestions or complaints or even the expectations of the citizens! On that background look what’s scene here in Pune!  
In any dictionary, smartness has no opposite word like, wise has fool & intelligent has stupid as their opposite words! Rather smartness is a scale as a person can be less or more smart or extremely smart types! There is nothing like unsmart or no smart type term to describe a person as a person can be less or more smart is all we describe when referring to smartness of a person! Same is applicable to a city!

Let’s take an example of a stray dog which gets killed under a vehicle on road in a city, a normal thing happening in every city & its body is lying on road. Well, in first case, in  the city somewhere someone will take cognizance & the responsible team will reach at site the body of stray dog will be removed & the street will be cleaned & all will be back to normal without any botheration to the citizens. In a second case someone will take cognizance & he will inform the responsible team & the team will reach at site in time & do the needful. In third case the team will be informed but they won’t respond in time & the person who has took cognizance has to follow the team repeatedly till the dogs body has been moved. In fourth case the person who has taken the cognizance won’t even know to whom he should inform about the dog & would keep calling everybody in the system & they will keep pushing him of saying it’s not their job or responsibility! In fifth case no one will take cognizance of the lying dogs body & no one will inform anybody or even try doing that & the dead body of the dog keeps rotting on street & passer by just move besides cursing the system!

This can happen in any city, so how the smartness is involved here is the question many will ask! We have seen five cases of what can happen after the dog’s death on street due to any vehicle so it’s like smartness index which is defined by what happens after that. In first case the city is smartest as no one has to call anybody but the system took cognizance & the responsible team does its job on its own. Following the sequence the smartness index decreases as in last case nobody is bothering about taking action but all are cursing to the system forgetting that they are the system too! This city is at bottom of smartness index as what I have understood from the presentation or what has been explained is, a city has to have a system call it Municipal Corporation or anything; it has to be proactive & not just reactive that’s what smartness is! And agreed sometimes it may have to require pushing but then it should respond to that push & act, such should be every system where citizens interface is there! We have experiences of the fifth case so many times in our city that we are immune to it now. For e.g. a road is dug & it’s just like that for days or a drainage line gets burst & the sewage keep flowing polluting the river or nearby  area for days. Every day at same spots traffic jam occurs & it becomes routine for us, so many such things keeps happening around us & we think we are not responsible for it but always somebody else is!

What was more interesting is next day media has covered comments about smart city from many people from different fields & each of them was saying, “this has to be done by that segment” types things! For e.g. a business man was commenting PMC i.e. Pune Municipal Corporation as well Politicians should make this possible by considering this as smart city is their agenda! A senior bureaucrat was saying Startup business is the key so IT industries should come here. A leader of ruling part in State was saying its citizens who should make this possible. An NGO representative was saying Govt should make public transport strong. An elected member said administration which means PMC people I presume, should be held responsible for serving people properly. One govt employee with regional transport authority said PMC should use theirs i.e. RTO’s data to control the city as they have record of all vehicles! There were doctors who commented govt should set up public health service on basis of mobile network i.e. reaching to every house. The architects expressed need of making green building & environment sensitive planning. One education field personality urged for green as well knowledge campuses for the education institutes. A student commented that slums in the city should be developed as they are a big obstacle in making city smart. Many were saying there needs to be a political will to make the city smart & the list went on!  

To my surprise none of those except few rare personalities, who have attended the presentation were saying yes, I have understood my responsibility & I will start from myself to make the city smart! As what repeatedly Mr. Johar was telling is that it’s not some single person or department or organization which made Tel Aviv smart but entire city saw the same dream, understood individual’s responsibility & achieved it! Smartness has to be from within & for that first each of us has to acknowledge our role in that process. We can make all data available on one click but someone has to click to retrieve that & make use of it! Nobody from outside is going to come & do it for us. How many of us know simple things like what our residence’s Municipal ward number is & who is responsible for various tasks related to our day to day activity? This information is available on web site of PMC but how many of us have tried it & stored in their cell phones? The reason is those who have tried says there is no use as no one responds, ok but how many times when election has come you have mentioned these issues to the candidate who had come to your home for asking your vote?

I think to make our city smart we first have to understand definition of smartness? By me, smartness is understanding our own responsibility & performing to it & if I have to make my city smart then it starts from my own home as well work place! Smartness is an attitude; if a person is smart then it reflects in his every aspect right from dressing to communication with other person. 

And a city will become smart not just by gadgets & apps or web sites but by behavior of every citizen, I think this is the only difference between Tel Aviv & Pune, that they have understood what smartness means & we are yet thinking someone else will become smart & then the city will become smart! It’s high time to accept this truth & for that we don’t need any competition as with this line of action any city can become smart as it’s not for the sake of funding or some tag of smart city is important but the feeling of smartness which we each of us will have is going to make the city smart from within. Till then, Amen!

Sanjay Deshpande

Sanjeevani Dev.

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