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Highlights of Proceedings from ConnectKaro: Building Smart Cities for Sustainable Development in India

Leading India’s discourse on Smart Cities for Sustainable Development, CONNECTKaro 2015, was held at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi on 15 and 16 April, 2015. CONNECTKaro is the annual flagship event of EMBARQ India, the sustainable transport initiative of the World Resources Institute, which has been engaged with over 15 cities in India on infrastructure and public transport projects, helping cities make sustainable transport a reality.

CONNECTKaro 2015 covered many issues within the smart city discourse with sector specialists in the areas of mobility, land management, public spaces, and others. The event was open to media and interested citizens and saw participation from 250 people at the venue, and an additional 1200 people watching the various sessions online.

Day 1

Nitin Gadkari, Minister for Road Transport and Highways, opened the conference, and stressed the importance of solving the key issues of water, power, transport, city infrastructure, job creation, road safety, green fuel technologies and a clean environment, to build smart cities. “We need to decrease the stress on our cities via decentralising industrialisation” said Gadkari. “We need low cost housing and urban planning of international standards.”

The Chief Secretary of Delhi, KK Sharma, discussed the importance of improving public transport not just in big cities, but smaller cities as well. “We need good quality bus transport systems and priority for pedestrians and cyclists” said Sharma. “We should neither encourage nor discourage urbanization, but as cities grow, we need to provide good transport systems for them.”

The Mayor of Belo Horizonte, Marcio Lacerda, made a call for polycentric cities, and said that Brazil and India shared many development challenges, and that he looked forward to sharing learning across both markets.

Jamshyd Gorej, Chairman, of the World Resources Institute in India, outlined India’s rapid urbanization, and the need to create cities that would help improve the quality of life for people. “As one of the last major countries to experience urbanization, India will see an additional 220 million people move to cities across the country. Which cities will these people go to? Is it possible to create jobs for them? Will they have a good quality of life?” These are important questions that need to be answered.

The session on land management for smart cities focused on the Government of India’s smart cities programme, committed to smart development in three scenarios, namely retrofitting development, redevelopment, and green-field development.

The discussion on smart mobility outlined the range of new technologies now available to enhance citizens’ mobility experience, stressing on a reduced dependence on cars, and an enhanced focus on ensuring benefits for the majority of road users – pedestrians, cyclists, buses, trains, and other mass transport users.

The existing frameworks for transit-oriented development were discussed in relation to the challenges faced by cities, and the gaps between policy and projects, instruments available for consolidation of land for various uses.

There was an interesting discussion on women’s safety in public transport and public spaces, focusing on potential solutions to address this problem in Indian cities.

The session on open streets acknowledged the advances made by various cities, starting with Gurgaon, on implementing car-free Sundays in India. Initiatives like Raahgiri Day, Equal Streets Day and others have drawn over 200,000 people every week. There is huge potential for initiatives like these to lobby for key infrastructural changes that promote non-motorised modes of transport, like walking and cycling, in cities.

Mobility start-ups in India are gradually changing the way people move about in cities. The session on ‘disrupting cities for good’ saw emerging businesses speak on how they are fundamentally transforming the way people travel.

Day 2

Day two of the conference opened with a plenary on the New Climate Economy, with a special keynote address by Minister of Railways, Suresh Prabhu. The discussions focused around how India can benefit from compact, connected and coordinated cities.

The session on the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories explored the relevance of this protocol for Indian cities, focusing on the examples of Bangalore, Rajkot, Pune, and others.

The workshop session on safe access to mass transit stations engaged and informed participants about the various processes to plan, develop, enable, and enforce safe access to and around mass transit stations.

At a special keynote address, Mayor Marcio Lacerda spoke about various initiatives in Brazilian cities, with a focus on Belo Horizonte and how issues of urban development and sustainability have been tackled.

Another special keynote address by Manish Sisodia, Deputy Chief Minister, Government of Delhi, was the highlight of the afternoon. Sisodia spoke about his vision for Delhi and the need for improving transport in the city.

The session on improving bus transport services in Indian cities highlighted the successes and lessons learnt from the Government of India’s JnNURM funding scheme, identifying components of future reforms that would be needed. The session also looked at several challenges being faced by the ecosystem, including manufacturing of buses, safety of vehicles, emission standards, financial models, and more.

The session with private developers focused on the need for a concerted effort towards integrating ‘gated communities’ within cities, paying attention to how residents can access public transport safely and comfortably, negating the need for private vehicle usage. In addition, other issues of sustainability like energy consumption and equitable city development were discussed.

The discussion on road safety looked at the staggering numbers of fatalities in Indian cities. By some estimates, road traffic crash fatalities are poised to grow five-fold in India by 2050. The panellists looked at how a ‘sustainable transport approach’ could help reduce these numbers.

The last parallel session on parking policies in cities discussed the urgent need to address on-street parking through strong institutional and enforcement set-ups, and off-street parking through building regulations.

In Closing

In closing, Madhav Pai announced the transition of WRI’s EMBARQ programme to the WRI Ross Centre for Sustainable Cities, which would build on EMBARQ’s transport expertise and work closely with cities on various other sectors, making our cities better places to live, work and thrive.

He also said a special thank you to all the staff and partners responsible for making the event a success.

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