The $90-billion Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) project is now underway. In his budget speech, finance minister P Chidambaram announced that this project will soon build seven new cities including two smart cities, one at Dholera in Gujarat and the other at Shendra Bidkin in Maharashtra.
Two additional corridors are being planned, one between Bangalore and Chennai and the other between Bangalore and Mumbai. India has not ever had such a massive building of new urban areas, the last major project being Chandigarh in 1950. In the next few decades, these new cities along the three corridors have the potential to change the country in a fundamental way.
Urban development is now a serious academic discipline, with many fascinating ideas being explored to make our cities sustainable as well as great places to live. Being developed are new ways of urban transport, energy generation and distribution, building design, healthcare and other emergency services, waste management and so on, with information technology tying them into a neat, living organism.
DMIC is yet to decide on these technologies, but we select some ideas that could make their way into these cities over the next decade. None of these technologies is fully developed, but they show how a future city will function.
All transport nodes in these cities are being designed to be within ten minutes of walking from residential and commercial areas. DMIC is developing rail and bus transport systems in phase I, and light rail in the later phases.
There will be new options available around the world after that, like a personal rapid system (PRT). They are small automated vehicles moving on dedicated tracks, and they are being tried in some cities around the world, including Amritsar in India. Urban experts think that PRT will eliminate cars in future cities.
Renewable energy is expected to power a substantial portion of the new cities, with far more decentralisation than is being done in Indian cities now. Current blueprints include solar photovoltaic and solar thermal plants, biomass plants, charging stations and so on.
Such an infrastructure would make a smart grid mandatory. Charging stations, however, could disappear within a decade as roads become capable of wirelessly charging cars as they move. The World Economic Forum recently selected such online vehicles as a top emerging technology of 2013.
Since the project is at an early stage, building design is not yet part of the plan, but one could expect sustainability to be at the heart of most buildings. Models abound in cities around the world. Seattle’s Bullitt Center, the greenest commercial building in the world, is a good example.
It utilises solar energy for all its energy needs, collects and stores – with recycling – rainwater for 100 days, creates living spaces inside, and so on. If they can do it in cloudy Seattle, why not in sunny Rajasthan and Gujarat?
Waste management is still considered a technically difficult area, with zero waste cities still a long away in a true sense. DMIC cities are expected to use modern waste management techniques like separation, incineration, water recycling and so on.
With luck, some of the larger cities could use underground vacuum-driven conveyer belts for waste transport, called pneumatic waste collection systems. They remove the need for foul-smelling waste to go through the roads, but eliminating waste safely is still a dream. Perhaps the emerging science of garbology would give an answer.
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