How data and technology can improve urban livability

By fostering strong collaborations and pooling resources, cities can collectively address the challenges of data-driven urbanization, says NIUA report
10 Jul 2023
0 mins read
There is tremendous transformative potential of data driven approaches in shaping urban environments (Image: Needpix, CC0)
There is tremendous transformative potential of data driven approaches in shaping urban environments (Image: Needpix, CC0)

The National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) and Primus Partners Pvt. Ltd. (Primus) collaborated on a report titled "Data and Technology to Drive Liveable Cities." This comprehensive study was officially unveiled during the Urban 20 Mayoral summit held in Ahmedabad on July 7 and 8, 2023. The report was presented by Hitesh Vaidya, Director of NIUA, alongside prominent leaders from the U20 community.

The report highlighted the critical role of data-driven decision making and technological advancements in driving urban management. This comprehensive report offers recommendations in the area of data and technology, capacity building, and performance assessment to establish an effective structure for sustainable urban development. It further lays down 6 parameters for assessment of future ready cities namely –

  • Data availability, accessibility, and usage
  • Data governance and privacy
  • Data analysis and insights
  • Technology infrastructure and connectivity
  • Citizen engagement and participation
  • Sustainability and resilience

Out of the 15 key recommendations in the report, one of the key recommendations of the report suggests that establishing city data hubs will revolutionize urban management and planning reducing the current planning cycle of 10 years to on the go. These hubs would centralize data collection and provide real-time solutions to urban challenges, optimizing data collection methods by using technology.  

“In the realm of urban planning, data is the new currency, and professionals are the ones who unlock its transformative power. The importance of data cannot be overstated, as it holds the key to understanding the intricate complexities of our cities," said Keshav Varma, Chairman of the High-Level Committee on Urban Planning, MoHUA.

The report emphasizes that although Indian urban cities are expected to account for almost $5 trillion of India's GDP roughly 70% by 2030, not a single Indian city is part of the top 100 liveable cities index. While the global liveability index 2022 has five Indian cities—Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Ahmedabad, and Bangalore—included for the first time, all five cities scored poorly, ranking between 140 and 146. This highlights the urgent need to draw attention to creating liveable cities for our future generation. The report also touches upon the need to put data and technology at the core of urban planning for making cities liveable.

Mr. Kunal Kumar, Joint Secretary and Mission Director, Smart Cities Mission at the Government of India, who has been spearheading one of the critical missions in urban space highlighted that “Placing data-driven approaches at the forefront ensures that interventions genuinely cater to community needs and aspirations."

As per the report there is an urgent need for effective urban planning and development strategies to ensure that cities provide a high quality of life for their residents. By focusing on sustainable infrastructure, affordable housing, efficient transportation, access to basic amenities, and environmental considerations Indian cities can be transformed into liveable and inclusive spaces for the growing urban population.

The implementation of a comprehensive assessment framework, commonly known as a "report card", plays a pivotal role in evaluating and benchmarking the progress and performance of cities in their journey towards sustainable urban development. This paper has highlighted the significance of such a framework and provided recommendations for its successful implementation.

A report card serves as a valuable tool for cities to assess their achievements, identify areas for improvement, and track their progress over time. By establishing definitive standards and incorporating the essential elements of integrated digital infrastructure, data governance, IoT technologies, citizen engagement platforms, open data initiatives, collaboration and partnerships, and capacity building, cities can effectively evaluate their performance and set ambitious goals for future development.

The framework outlined in this report emphasizes the importance of striking a balance between standardization and customization. While standardization ensures consistency and provides a baseline for evaluation, customization allows cities to address their unique challenges and aspirations. This approach fosters healthy competition among cities of different tiers, enabling them to learn from one another and work towards common goals while considering their individual contexts.

However, while recognizing the importance of data and technology, it is essential to address potential challenges and concerns associated with their use. Privacy and data security, digital divide, and ethical considerations must be carefully addressed to ensure equitable access and protect the rights of all individuals in urban areas.

“It is important to acknowledge that city assessment report cards are just one piece of the puzzle. The success of urban transformation relies on holistic approaches that consider social, economic, and environmental factors, alongside data and technology," said Hitesh Vaidya, Director, NIUA.

"Technology assumes the pivotal role of a catalyst, propelling the creation of smarter, more sustainable, and resilient cities where efficiency, inclusivity, and an exceptional quality of life thrive for all residents," added Sameer Jain, Managing Director, Primus Partners.

A World Bank report, "Financing India’s Infrastructure Needs: Constraints to Commercial Financing and Prospects for Policy Action," estimates that India will need to invest $840 billion over the next 15 years—that is, an average investment of $55 billion per annum—in urban infrastructure to effectively meet the needs of its fast-growing urban population. The recommendations in the report by NIUA & Primus Partners will help improve the outcome of the massive investments that are expected to flow into urban infrastructure in India. 


The team leading this initiative consisted of Manpreet Singh, Chief Program Officer, National Urban Digital Mission (NUDM), Pankaj Sharma, Regional Lead, NUDM, and Aparajita Dubey, Senior Program Associate, NUDM representing NIUA. Additionally, Nilaya Varma, Co-Founder & Managing Director of Primus Partners, played a crucial role, supported by Shristi Singh, Vice President, and Ipsita, Associate Vice President and Ashvinder Seera, Senior Consultant from Primus Partners.

About NIUA - The National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) is India’s leading national think tank on urban planning and development. As a hub for the generation and dissemination of cutting-edge research in the urban sector, NIUA seeks to provide innovative solutions to address the challenges of a fast-urbanising India and pave the way for more inclusive and sustainable cities of the future.

About Primus Partners - Primus Partners Pvt. Ltd. is a leading management consulting services firm headquartered in New Delhi. Primus provides consulting and advisory services across various industries, including rural management, public policy, and industrialization in both the public and private sectors.

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