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Make Liveable Cities, Not Smart Cities

Former mayors of Adelaide and Barcelona share their expertise on how to make a smart city; Urban development secretary talks about raising civil charges.

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Photo Credit : mapmyindia.com,

The Center's urban development call to action is called "Smart Cities". It has been fooling people into thinking that it means using the fanciest, most sophisticated technology to make a hi-tech concrete jungle. It's not. The "Smart City" concept is about making cities liveable with the help of technology while civilians lead the urban planning changes.

Rajiv Gauba, Secretary, Ministry of Urban Development, said, “The 74th Amendment was ground breaking but hasn’t been completely implemented on ground. Citizens should be empowered to have a bigger say in how their municipalities are governed. The municipal elections are not transparent enough, because they happen indirectly people don’t know who they are voting for. Tenures usually last for 1-2 years. That is something that should be changed.”

The secretary was peaking at an event only partially open to media, organized by the India Merchant Chamber (IMC) Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Why India must urbanize

The drive to create smart cities is also about increasing the national economic prowess. As Gauba continues, “Cities are the crucible of innovation. But our cities at present are not very liveable. If they are not liveable, then the wealth creators won’t come live in the city to be a part of the economic growth. We also need more urbanization to reap proper benefits from our enormous demographic dividend.”

“There has been a paradigm shift in the political narrative around urbanization. The infrastructure deficit in India is so humongous, McKinsey figures say it may take 1.2 trillion dollars and another 20 years to gap it. Funding such gaps cannot be solely by governing bodies. Private organizations and civilians will have to be participate in bridging these gaps as well. Which is why there is possibility of looking at raising more municipal bonds which India doesn’t do enough of compared to other large or developed countries. We have also seen that Indians are willing to pay 3 times more than current prices for resources, if the quality of service is high. So raising civilian charges is another possible way to finance urban development projects.”

Another reason why Smart City project is essential is because it is the only way to equalize India’s gross disparity in resource distribution. Professor O.P. Mathur, Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Studies said, “My only plea is that the smart city project continues. We have seen before that essential work is stopped when governments change. There is massive inequality in resource distribution. Currently 5 per cent of Delhi is using 50 per cent of its water. Smart City project must become part of the system, so that it will continue no matter who is in charge.”

Smart Cities are created by empowered civilians. Technology only enabler.

Antonio Vives, is former deputy mayor of Barcelona, Spain. He helped Barcelona win 5 million dollars in an international smart city competition.

“The proposal that won us the money wasn’t about state of the art road lighting systems. The proposal was about how we made life easier for our senior citizens, how a young woman can alert the police about her safety. It sounds very sexy to say you are using hi-tech solutions. But if you’re spending huge amounts of money and there is no benefit to anyone, then what would be the point?”

Five of the top ten most liveable cities in the world are Australian, according to Mr. Stephen Yarwood, CEO, City 2050 and former Lord Mayor, city of Adelaide, Australia. “I’m not here to tell you how to run your cities. However if I can share something from my time as mayor it’s that empowering your citizens will transform your cities. Citizens lead change.”



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