Unraveling the Smart Conundrum

Smart Cities

Ayon Kumar Tarafdar, PhD. Associate Professor and Head, Department of Planning, School of Planning and Architecture, Vijayawada

The New Born 'Smartness'
Before delving into the widely deliberated and discussed phrase 'smart cities', let me state at the outset that in spite of the multiple interpretations available as published rhetoric, it is widely agreed that "there is no universally accepted definition of a smart city and it means different things to different people" (MoUD, GoI, 2015).

This gap is understandable. While it is easy to fathom the adjective 'smart' in the context of a person or a phone, thereby connoting good interpersonal skills or advanced specifications, relating smartness to a city multiplies the complexities in manifold. A city needs to be understood as a complex multi-layered eco-system that has systemic components like sanitation, healthcare, open spaces, commercial nodes, transport etc., each of which work towards certain overall systemic functions like employment, housing, mobility, security, etc. These components and functions are stitched together by organizations mandated to decide or execute or maintain, empowered with legislative provisions. In addition to this, a city is primarily a context for achieving personal aspirations, a vehicle for economic growth of the nation and has remnants of heritage, culture and bio-diversity that needs to be preserved. In this complex and intricate mesh of functions and components in Indian cities, which are largely organic and unplanned, the meaning of smartness becomes cryptic from start.

The Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India, has identified 20 Indian cities and has committed funding to the tune of Rs.200 crores in the first year, to be followed by Rs.100 crore per year for each city for the next three years. For the execution of this widely publicized project, MoUD, GoI indicates ten core elements, which can help us interpret the concept of smart cities, namely - water supply, electric supply, sanitation, urban mobility, housing for all, IT connectivity, governance and citizen participation, sustainable environment, safety and security of citizens, and health and education. At the strategic level, it suggests four approaches – retrofitting, redevelopment, greenfield and pan-city solutions. At this juncture, it is imperative to discuss the role of urban planners in India to hint a possible emerging anomaly.

NBM&CW July 2016

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