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How smart cities are solving India's housing problem

India's building industry is occupied at the moment with a number of huge, ambitious projects, but perhaps the most impressive is the commitment to creating 'smart cities'. The pet project of prime minister Narendra Modi, India will be building a number of these huge metropolises throughout the country.

The government has pledged to construct 100 of these smart cities by 2022. However, while the focus has largely been on the fact that the settlements will be hi-tech business and industry hubs, not a lot of attention has been paid to how they will help India's housing problems.

One of Mr Modi's other pledge to Indians is to remove the need for slums. Indians have been in the middle of a mass urban migration for several years, with more and more moving from rural areas to India's cities. By 2050, it is thought that the urban population of India will have more than doubled compared to its current total, reaching 814 million people.

The smart cities will work towards this goal by providing a number of much-needed amenities to India's population.


Housing and supporting infrastructure

First and foremost, the cities will provide much-needed houses. While critics of the smart cities have suggested building accommodation in existing cities, this has been judged impractical due to the strain on infrastructure it would cause. However, one of the first aspects of the smart cities has been the construction of this infrastructure.

Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT) is the first of the smart cities, and in addition to its two office buildings it has several miles of underground infrastructure ready to service the houses that will be constructed there eventually. In many ways, this infrastructure is just as valuable to Indians than the eventual housing.

For example, one feature of the smart cities will be clean water for all, which is not the case in India's slums. An automated waste collection system is also going to be implemented, as is a reliable supply of electricity. The promise of these is likely to attract many Indians to the smart cities.


Planning and investment

Another problem with India's current housing situation, with slums springing up in crowded urban areas, is a lack of planning. Jagan Shah, director of India's National Institute of Urban Affairs, said "most cities have not been planned in an integrated way", but the smart cities will change that.

The new settlements will be designed with the population that will eventually live there in mind. This means they will be more easily navigable, and amenities like hospitals will be laid out to be accessible to appropriate numbers of people.

The intense planning is also attracting investment. Talking to Reuters, Mr Shah said: "To get the private sector in, there is a lot of risk mitigation that needs to happen because nobody wants a risky proposition." The careful plans are one aspect of this mitigation, ensuring international firms are more willing to work on the smart city projects.
In addition to simply building homes, the smart cities are set up to provide a number of other amenities that will attract foreign investment to the projects while ensuring Indians move to the settlements once they have been constructed.

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