The government has announced an urban agenda to develop 100 new smart cities for the country as a solution to the issue of: urban liveability. This initiative has received a lot of attention within the country and the world. Intense discussions and thought provoking debates are taking place regarding the form and context within which these cities should be developed.
A summarized version of the Government of India’s definition of a smart city is: “one that is clean competitive, capital generating and sustainable. The cities should provide good basic infrastructure such as water, sanitation, reliable utility services, health care, attractive for investments, transparent processes to be able to run businesses, simple and on line processes for obtaining approvals and services and facilities to make the people of the city feel safe and secure. To read more about the smart cities mission visit smartcities.gov.in
By that definition a smart city sounds no different than what a city should be in the first place. Cities are engines of growth and as a result of which they attract people. With increasing urbanization and the lack of infrastructure, the government has now realized the need for cities that can cope with the challenges of urban living and also be magnets for investment.
When we talk of smart cities often people limit their conversations to the need for sensors, CCTVS, ambient intelligence and digital records. Instead they need to talk about raising the standard of living, generating resources, creating opportunities and self-sustaining habitats.
Sustainability or building right and sensitively has to be one of the main criteria for a smart city. The city should be able to address climate change and reduce carbon footprint. So how can technology really assist us in the planning of smart cities? 3D mapping tools have become valuable for visualizing and designing cities where various services can be layered and looked at together. Like in New Orleans, CyArk is using that same 3-D mapping data to create a detailed digital copy of the city, so that if there is catastrophic damage, and some of these historic buildings are destroyed or altered, a detailed record of what was there could be referenced. As Neelie Kroes, Vice-President, Commissioner Digital Agenda, European Commission once said, “Every city already generates huge amounts of information, for many different purposes. But too often that information is lost. It’s time to get smart and start using it”.
Case – studies of cities in the west is good to look at for the lessons learned but by aping the west we are not going to be able to solve our issues. Each city in India has its unique set of issues and challenges that need to be dealt with and resolved by providing solutions specific to that city. We need to find our own mix and derive a definition that is specific to us.
But in a country where millions are struggling to get by, the initiative also got us wondering how people will be able to afford the expensive housing and living costs of smart cities. The upcoming infrastructure in most parts of the country is coming at the expense of farming land. Rural percentage is higher than urban because India is an agrarian state and most families depend on farming for their livelihood.
Should the focus now be on building new smart cities or retrofitting existing cities or developing the villages around these existing cities? It has previously been stated that no economy can grow on the basis of agriculture so it is inevitable that people will move to cities. In that statement alone lays the answer to our problems. A sustainable growth with balanced resources could help in raising the quality of life of rural areas.
At the first Annual Architecture Festival hosted in Jaipur, B V Doshi and Rajeev Kathpalia had spoken about Crafting Future Cities and what they had to say was, "We are used to cities as centralized entities and we are saying perhaps the time has come to start thinking of each place as independent and self-supporting", which is what sustainable cities are all about.
Be it a city or a village, these are just settlements or habitats at different scales, which need to be planned in a way that they are self-sustaining , providing enough job opportunities, training people to use resources wisely and increasing their quality of life.
The goals of a self-sustaining city need to: reduce emissions and traffic, save energy, make the urban landscape a more comfortable place to live in. The systems at all levels, be it social or political needs to be transparent and there needs to be accountability at all levels.
The way the smart cities agenda is being marketed there is no doubt that the real agenda is the need for foreign capital to enter into new territories. This will allow international corporations to invest and operate in sanitized spaces bypassing the multiple complexities that otherwise characterize urban India. Therefore our purpose and goals for smart cities need to be much clearer along with a better understanding of the socio-economic condition of our country. The city needs to be designed wisely, catering to everyone’s needs equally irrespective of social and cultural differences.
Muse MATTERS is a series of dialogues that as a studio we shall engage in– the purpose of the dialogues is for the studio to discuss matters, ask questions, share lessons learnt and may be in the process we can make a difference. Topics discussed shall not be restricted to the field of architecture and design necessarily; they could be about an experience, a journey, a comic strip and anything in between or beyond. We will use this space to share our thoughts and blurbs.