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A Recipe For Indian Smart Cities: Combining Technology With Urban Planning And Inclusivity

The digital revolution can bring everyone along if it used in an inclusive manner for example by using data to identify and target a city's most vulnerable population

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In his 2013 book titled ' Against the Smartcity' Les Greenfield of the London School of Economics Cities documents the epistemology of the concept of 'smartcities' showing that it originated from tech giants IBM, CISCO and Software AG hoping to profit from software contracts from city managers. Accordingly Green finds that the concept of smart cities has emerged from businesses rather than from any group of urban theory or practice of planning.

While proponents of smartcities argue that through data management cities can revolutionize city management. Opponents see smartcities as too technology driven and distorting investments by resource constrained governments to prioritize fancy gimmicks over foundational investments in housing, services and infrastructure and exacerbating existing urban inequalities between social groups.

A recent report from the World Bank states that while technology can be transformative it can also exacerbate existing inequalities widening the gap between those with and without access to digital technology such as mobile phones, internet and related technology. In India, where 83 per cent of the population does not have access to the internet, an excessive focus on digital technology without integration with existing urban planning will make smart cities work for a select middle and urban class and leave the majority shut out.

Is the current model of Indian Smart Cities focused on an urban elite? Many expos, events and conferences in the capital city feel like a marketing exercise for technology based apps from developed countries trying force fit onto our chaotic developing vibrant cities it's probably because they are.

The digital revolution can bring everyone along if it used in an inclusive manner for example by using data to identify and target a city's most vulnerable population, for example in slum upgradation. Make data open and easily accessible to allow a multiplicity of stakeholders to access and authenticate it. Enhance citizen connectivity for making government more accountable. Examples of this draw on other Developing cities that India can learn from such as Sao Paolo, Nairobi and the Phillipines.

Inclusion key for Digital Transformation

Currently 30 per cent of India's population lives in cities. Early experiences in India, where IBM, Cisco and Bechtel were asked to provide technology and infrastructure saw the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, and Dholera, an industrial hub on the Delhi-Mumbai corridor. In Dholera agitations by farmers over being made to give up their land stalled the project. The major roadblock for government will be accessing land for 100 cities. Land rather than technology is a primary factor for developing smart cities in India.

The recently published Smart Cities Handbook by CII in fact highlights the challenges faced by the 20 cities in the first round of selection. The data in the handbook also highlights one of the major concerns Indian smart cities face, the collection, management and dissemination of timely and accurate data. The data relied upon for this publication comes primarily from the 2009 district census and 2011 census and is over five years old.

A closer look at the data for the top ranked smart city Bhubaneswar shows that Women make up only 16.2 per cent of permanent workers. Just 51.7 per cent of households have water connections and 50 per cent of households access non-revenue water. Only 27 per cent of households have a latrine that is connected to a water source. Close to 40 per cent of households live in dilapidated but livable houses, 20 per cent live in slums. Only 16 per cent of households have access to the internet. If we use the indicator for household access to the internet as a proxy for coverage only a minority of people will access digital services. Core urban planning issues such as access to land, housing and transportation continue to dominate the core development agenda for the city.

Access to land for re development is the key component of the Bhubaneshwar plan redeveloping 985 acres around their main railway station, 30 acre lake area, 12 acres for railway development, 40 acres of unused public land and 6,000 houses for slum redevelopment, affordable housing, rental housing for construction workers. The city has allocated Rs. 4,537 crore towards developing into a Smart City, the bulk of which will be used for housing for all (2128 crore) and Urban mobility and transit 1,289. The city aims to meet its financing through proposed PPPs for Rs. 2563 crore

In Jaipur (rank # 3) women make up only 13.7 per cent of the permanent workforce. 32 per cent of households do not have a water connection, 32 per cent access non-revenue water, Close to 30 per cent do not have a toilet connected to a piped sewer, solid waste management coverage is extremely low at 7.3 per cent and just 12.4 per cent of households have internet. The city has estimated an outlay of Rs. 2,340 crore, the bulk of which, Rs. 888 crore and Rs. 432 crore are earmarked for civic infrastructure and solid waste management. The proposed financing model depends on the smart cities mission at the centre (Rs. 500 crore) and the state (Rs. 500 Crore) with Rs. 355 crore earmarked for PPPs, convergence with existing schemes will yield another Rs. 221 crore.

The Smart City Mission of the Government of India is banking on PPPs as the primary vehicle to raise $ 7 billion for the first round of 20 cities. through projects worth $7billion as its first offering in the twenty lighthouse cities that have made it to Round 1. The government has announced another 13 to 14 cities in taking the total to 34 that will be financed in the first round. The CII Smart City Investors Meet on May 19th in the capital, saw Ambassadors from six country's the US, Japan, South Korea, Spain and the High Commissioner of UK among others re affirm their commitment to partnering with the Smart City Mission by committing to financing projects. The day long convention brought together diverse stakeholders from solution providers to city corporate's, policy makers and foreign investors.

The Minister for Urban Development, Naidu in his remarks underscored the fact that the Public Private Partnership (PPP) was the preferred vehicle for achieving the Smart Cities Mission. He stated that the PPP model had been widely accepted and that as a country we could no longer differentiate between private and public when we were inviting FDI into the country. Accordingly the minister stated with respect to PPPs, "a change in mind set has taken place". The Minister was also quick to caution that Smart Cities could not be constructed overnight. He further cautioned against free services and stated that enhanced facilities also meant that people had to pay for water and electricity. Mr. Rajiv Gauba, Secretary - MOUD, speaking earlier in the sessions said that a unique aspect of the entire Smart City Mission is about the citizen participation. Almost 14 million citizens across the country had participated in shaping the smart city plans and this needed to be built upon even as plans were rolled out. "We need to institutionalize it and see that citizens play a proactive role through feedback loops," the secretary said.

In his speech the US Ambassador Richard Verma addressed the shifting perceptions around smart cities in his own country when he stated:

" …we can't think of technology as a panacea - it is not a cure-all, and we cannot forget that the fundamentals are still essential. The trusted relationships that we form, the ability to build consensus, and our ability to hear and understand each other still form the core of our interactions and no device or smart application can substitute for that interaction. An app, for example, cannot replace a town hall meeting or eliminate the need for citizens to meet face to face with city and government officials when necessary. Relationships matter. Building trust is imperative. Good governance will continue to be essential." The US government is partnering in developing three cities Vizag, Allahabad and Äjmer.

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public policy smartcities cisco technology richard verma