smart Cities: Looking Back
The building of cities is one of man’s greatest achievements.
– Edmund Bacon
The design of the challenge was partly based on a study conducted during the formulation of the smart cities Mission guidelines. a professional agency, commissioned by Bloomberg Philanthropies [knowledge partners to the Mission], conducted an ethnographic survey along with interviews to obtain an insider’s point of view on the expectations from the Mission. eight guiding principles emerged based on 66 interviews (government: 22; citizens: 14; urban experts and academics: 30). These can be assumed to be a proxy for general ‘rules in use’ prevailing in self-organising systems. upon completion of the first round of the Challenge, another study was conducted by the london school of economics (lse) to assess the impact of india’s smart cities challenge. one way of looking back is to place these eight initial guiding principles next to the lessons from the lse study, and assess if the smart cities challenge was successful in bringing out the ‘rules in use’ contained in the guiding principles. in the following sections, the eight initial guiding principles are juxtaposed with the lessons from the lse study. 1. Harness the power of citizens:
engaged citizens are a smart city’s
greatest resource. Tapping that resource requires intentionality to create opportunities for meaningful participation. it also means enabling citizens to celebrate the programme, their city, and its progress via social media and other means. Learning: The smart cities challenge promoted an increase in participatory activities and means of citizen engagement at the city and neighbourhood level. 2. Treat every interaction as a learning opportunity: local leaders recognise the need for expertise in urban development and are calling out for help. The application process could create opportunities to learn at every stage, with no empty box-ticking. growing a set of informed, empowered bureaucrats will make the mission sustainable.
Learning: The competitive nature of the process increased the incentive for city leaders to perform well under pressure, work across departments, and focus on the uniqueness of their cities. The competitive process allowed municipalities to take the initiative, particularly as municipal officials had the space to determine city priorities and visions. city leaders, including municipal commissioners and deputy commissioners, benefitted from exposure to international case studies, new forms of finance, and direct engagement with global experts.
3. Partner up – Don’t do it alone: india is brimming with willing collaborators, but they are often misaligned, disconnected, in conflict, or worried about ‘sticking their necks out’. an ideal process would align stakeholders across government, civil society, and citizens, and create shared and optimisitic goals.
Learning: as a direct response to the competitive element in the smart cities challenge, cities were more inclined to engage citizens, reach out to a set of professional actors, and include new ideas with previous government backed initiatives. 4. Celebrate the Indian city: For the first time, cities topped the national agenda, and there was growing excitement and energy around the role of cities in propelling india forward. a challenge can articulate a distinctly indian version of urban smartness, simultaneously capturing global attention and fostering local pride. Learning: The smart cities challenge was perceived as being instrumental in promoting a degree of flexibility for city governments and encouraging them to take initiatives while operating within an established federal framework. The smart cities
challenge signaled a shift in the balance of power between the city, state, and central government. indian cities now have an immense opportunity to build upon the momentum. india’s experience of navigating this process will have implications and lessons for other rapidly urbanising regions. in that way, india’s smart cities can be ‘lighthouses’– not just for indian cities but also for cities around the world. 5. Demonstrate that it’s not government as usual: There is a sense of ‘once bitten, twice shy’ around government development projects. This is a chance to do things better. With quick wins, transparency, and adherence to deadlines, the challenge would show that it’s a new day.
Learning: The competitive nature of the process increased incentives for city leaders to perform well under pressure, and across departments, and focus on the uniqueness of their cities, generating a number of locally relevant proposals that responded to local needs. it encouraged project leaders to incorporate new thinking and develop creative ideas with the help of citizens and experts. 6. Balance inspiration and pragmatism: sometimes cities develop grand plans, but fail to implement them. at other times, they complete one-off projects, which fail to fit into any larger vision. Incentives should encourage ambitious but
achievable plans, with short-term milestones to keep the momentum high.
Learning: The competitive nature of the smart cities Mission led to more effective, realistic and deliverable ideas. it was noted that in order to demonstrate the quality of their proposals, cities had to put forward proposals that were not only innovative but implementable, thus improving the overall quality of the submissions. 7. Set municipal officials up for success: While states are responsible for much that happens in cities,
municipal officials are critical for success of such missions.
Finding discrete ways to support these smart cities champions through training, recognition, mentorship, and peer networking will produce considerable benefits for the Smart Cities mission – and potentially, a more lasting effect on municipal capacity. Learning: Respondents expressed the view that a wide range of key city actors at the urban level – including municipal commissioners, deputy commissioners, district collectors, nodal officers, and some local elected officials – were enthusiastic and responsive to the process. 8. Don’t settle for good
– push for great: With so many challenges in cities, first-pass cookie-cutter solutions are easy to come by, but often fall short of our expectations from them. To become great, cities should be supported by strengthening initial visioning, and the actors involved should think about local context, experiment accordingly, and then implement one’s ideas.
Learning: The focus of smart cities on area-based development represents a new way of thinking about urbanisation in india. it offers significant opportunities for holistic and integrated planning and also presents an opportunity to test ideas that can then be utilised in other cities and throughout the country.
Smart cities unbundled: ideas and practice of Smart cities in india By Dr Sameer Sharma Bloomsbury,170 pages, ₹499