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Stakeholders smarting under the smart city hype

Drawing parallels between SEZs and smart cities, Padode says, "Both SEZs and smart cities are planned to be conducive to their inhabitants; SEZs to the industry, and smart cities to its citizens."

Kavita Chowdhury  |  New Delhi 

Even as the Centre is on its way to finalise a list of 100 cities eligible for the "smart city" tag, stakeholders - urban planners, architects, urban designers and civil society - continue to raise concerns urging wider deliberations for an effective smart city in keeping with ground realities. The nodal urban development ministry (UDM) however, allays any such misgiving.

Smart city objective

Conceding that the foreign models of smart cities cannot be replicated in India, Pratap Padode, founder-director, Smart Cities Council India - a consortium of smart city experts - saying, "What can work best here is refining of existing local workable models," adding, "When tall claims by politicians of turning Mumbai into a Shanghai or Kolkata into a London don't materialise, the task of gaining acceptability for smart cities among the people becomes all the more difficult."

Drawing parallels between special economic zones (SEZs) and smart cities, Padode says, "Both SEZs and smart cities are planned to be conducive to their inhabitants; SEZs to the industry, and smart cities to its citizens." (INSIDE THE BRAIN OF A SMART CITY)

"The objective of the smart city mission is to make a difference to the quality of urban life. There is no one-size-fits-all approach," says a spokesperson for UDM.

According to the scheme, states were asked for names of urban local bodies i.e., cities shortlisted through an intra-state competition. Thereafter, 100 cities making the cut will compete to be among the first 20 in a list for 2015, selected on the basis of proposals for their vision of the smart city.

Apart from core infrastructural elements like adequate water supply, electricity, an efficient public transport system etc, the smart city proposals will have to include solutions like CCTVs, WiFi, smart street lighting or smart parking applications.

Addressing serious urban problems

Architect Gautam Bhatia perceives the model being proposed by the government as a "half-baked measure".

"It's like a business model being applied to an urban situation. It does not address serious problems confronting Indian cities like large-scale migration, slums or even overcrowding. Seventy per cent of Delhiites live in unauthorised areas. This is likely to go up to 90 per cent by 2020. These issues need to be tackled first," says Bhatia.

Emphasis on better governance

Urban designer K T Ravindran, dean of the RICS School of Built Environment at Amity University, is "optimistic" about the initiative. He says, "It is a workable model which can improve the quality of life, provided it is administered properly by the local body." However, he highlights that the government's initiative skipped two essential steps for any policy to be successfully translated on ground - sufficient public discourse and strengthening capacity at local body level to execute the project. "There has not been sufficient professional or public discourse on the smart city model. It is only through such discussions that workable strategies emerge," says Ravindran, a former professor of the School of Planning and Architecture. "The success of a sustainable design for a smart city is not only economic growth, but an equal emphasis on better governance."

Community & civil society involvement

Pradeep Narayanan of the Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices, which works on issues of equity and governance, calls for greater involvement of civil society and communities that will be directly affected by smart cities.

"Consultations with civil society have not been done. The guidelines for smart cities are still fuzzy and the challenge is to see how one will be developed. Is it going to be at the cost of evicting the poor? What is the vision for 'smartness'?" asks Narayanan.

Inclusive planning

"A city by definition gives all citizens the freedom to exercise their choices," says sociologist Dipankar Gupta, adding, "A smart city has to look at inclusive development - from the perspective of a planner as distinct from an engineer."

First Published: Mon, August 24 2015. 00:28 IST