We are living in the era of slogans, which in many ways is fruitful, for it wakes us from a slumber and in other ways is like opium, providing a mere temporary intoxication. Given this condition, it is too early to analyse if the proposed Smart Cities are going to be a model for sustainable urban living. However, one can check out the visions stated and the roadmap laid to imagine what a smart city is going to be like.
There is a general consensus about the Indian urban scene, which exhibits sporadic good performance, but has largely been a failure in managing urban affairs. Many reasons have been cited that include the known ones like rapid growth and lack of infrastructure; besides the lesser understood phenomena like short-sighted goals, impact of migration, ad hoc politics, greed overriding the need, residents’ apathy and domination of non-priority sectors. No wonder, our cities in comparison with the good ones in the world are way behind either in performance or presentation.Apprehensions
In principle, the smart city idea is a welcome move, but the fact that all this has been mooted by IT majors like IBM around 2009, later supported by others like CISCO, SIEMENS and such multinational firms needs to be understood closely. The apprehensions by many urban experts about possible market and MNC control have already been brushed aside as outdated thoughts, which is unfortunate.
The project is totally based on, as quoted in the EOI announcement of Delhi Government in Oct. 2014, “information and communication technologies (ICT) to be more intelligent and efficient in the use of resources, resulting in cost and energy savings, improved service delivery and quality of life and reduced environmental footprint, all supporting innovation and the low carbon economy.”
Till date, there is no proof to say technology-driven innovation will lead to low carbon economy. Possibly no one has attempted to compare the carbon footprint of computerisation with ever modernising technological products against that of human capital working with age-old, low-tech products.
High capital cost, waste generation during production, technological obsolescence, global marketing, and repeated investment in soft and hardware is no more a sustainable practice. Of course, this is not to advocate turning the clock back, but to be pragmatic in our expectations and actions.
The Smart City idea coincides with the rapid growth of the service profession at the cost of industry and agriculture, which needs to be seen with caution.
Being a technology driven initiative towards urban services, it is a much needed initiative towards better city services and governance, but it may not be a green idea in its present format. We could as well have termed it as Electronically Efficient City.
(The writer is an architect working for eco-friendly designs and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)