The world is becoming predominately urban. It is always expanding and so is the vocabulary relating to city development. A lot of new buzz words are thrown around to put forward the idea about specific kinds of urban development. We must stay away from pointless gobbledygook to focus on real issues plaguing our cities
There is no rule book for building a city yet the cities, these days, are planned around certain naming conventions. These conventions decide the initial planning and priorities of a city. Indian cities are writing a new growth story with novel development plans and the prospects of fine urban living. The plans for new-age cities are weaved around a couple of jargons and the most popular among them is Smart City. Government of India had announced a Mission on this in 2015. But, what is a smart city? There is no universally accepted definition. For cities in the developed world, smart cities represent the kind of cities which provide ‘open data’ based solutions using Internet of Things and other modern technological interventions at the world’s disposal. One size does not fit all. The above definition does not feature in Smart Cities Mission guidelines released by GoI. For countries like India, smart cities mean equitable and efficient provision of basic services for every citizen. That means if our cities are providing drinking water, sewage network, clean roads, housing solutions, waste management facilities to all then cities qualify to become smart. However, Indian government has kept it open for urban local bodies to interpret smart city as per their own strengths and requirements and the cities have come out with their plans.
Every city has its own requirements and so they must create their own definition of urban jargons. It is true that the city development around a specific idea provides urban planners and decision makers a straight path and prioritises their specific objectives. This also makes policy formulation easier but such plans do not necessarily address all the problems. And, there is possibility that certain sectors or the concerns of a section of society are left out in such scheme of things.
If a city aspires to become a global city and hub of business activities, can it ignore its urban environment and sustain? Same way, if a city is striving to become a green city; can it ignore the introduction of modern technology in its delivery mechanism and infrastructure development.
The answer is an obvious no. The sad part is that it does happen. Take the example of Gurgaon (now Gurugram), the city was developed at a fast pace by acquiring land from farmers and other land owners to make it the hub of international business activities. It did become so in a couple of years but the city planners and developers gave little focus to integrating other key components such as efficient drainage, accessibility for all, pedestrian pathways, or effective traffic management. Such problems are still plaguing the city and incessant rain in July last year underlined the gap in planning. City planners and local leaders must stop following the herd and pick up best components from all popular urban naming conventions to make their cities better.
Jargons and city development
Urbanists world over have coined scores of jargons but most of these remain less understood or misunderstood. The prime reason is that there is no standardization of terminology being used in the domain. These terms cannot be put in water-tight compartments. Take the example of most popular term in urban development sphere— Smart City. Several definitions have been conceptualized by different organizations.
It is just one example. Urban development sphere has seen evolution of many such terms relating to kinds of cities being popularized. These include Intelligent City, Digital City, Inclusive City, Green City, Equitable City, Sponge City, Ghost City, Low-Carbon City, Livable City, Climate Resilient City, of these terms have any standard definition. Cities have adopted these ideas and beetc. And, if one scratches the surface, the story behind conceptualization of the idea can be revealed. None gun implementing essential requisite policy changes and project plans in their existing development framework. Adopting of these terms for a city reflects the aspirations and vision of city leaders, planners and their citizens.
The question lingers—are we mindlessly becoming part of the herd and ignoring the real issues plaguing our cities? There is no harm in building a smart city but can a smart city be equitable it terms of service delivery. City leaders, planners and technical experts, must reinvent the definition rather enlarge the scope by including essential components for long term sustainability of the city.
Smart City Mission has addressed the issue by calling for smart city proposals from cities to define their idea of embedding smartness in their city system.
At local level, a couple of urban local bodies have even refused to implement the smart city mission because it apparently did not suit their needs. Their reasons are varied. State government of West Bengal has decided to develop its ‘Green Cities’. And, Navi Mumbai Corporation has denied saying that the Smart Cities Mission would give India’s central government increased powers over urban local bodies and elected representatives, as Special Purpose Vehicle would give more powers to bureaucrats.Such powers were constitutionally reserved for local authorities.
The nation’s process of bringing change in cities is contested at various levels. And, this appears to be part of the process that would evolve a strong model of city development and management.
City and their evolution
Any city in any country in the world evolved over a period to serve some specific purpose. This is true for Indian cities too. Take the example of a midsize city like Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. Though, it is older than many Indian cities it did not exist two centuries ago. It began taking its shape when British made it (then Cawnpore) one of their key garrisons.
The English contributed in shaping the city and the vestiges of British era can still be found in the city. Post independence, industrial revolution, especially setting up of jute and cotton mills, made the city an industrial city. Migrants from different parts of the state and nearby states came in for employment and gave it a metropolitan flavor. It did not strive to become an industrial city.
It evolved through a process. Similarly, Bengaluru, from the very beginning, was not meant to be an IT Capital of India but when the industry flourished, the governments supported the development by addressing infrastructural needs and city came into a shape.
Our idea of terming a city’s development in a certain water-tight compartment does reflect what we want to make out of that city but the problem is that city builders must not make the development process pointed in just one direction. We need holistic development model for addressing multiple problems of the city.
According to a report ‘Reconceptualising Smart Cities: A Reference Framework for India’ by Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy, “Towns and cities, unlike rivers and mountains, are human creations. They reflect our aspirations and respond to the
challenges of that era. Cities are the response to social, political or technological transformations. New Delhi was built for ease of ruling a large land, while Jamshedpur was created as a company town for the steel makers, presenting all modern conveniences of a city in a state that was largely rural.
“Unfolding technologies can create new opportunities that old towns could not even imagine. The new towns of midland England were the consequences of the Industrial Revolution, which created extensive opportunities for work and play.
More recently, the Silicon Valley was created, transforming the rich agricultural Californian land for unleashing the multitude of opportunities that silicon chips create. India too has its own Electronics City in Bangalore where Information Technology rules.”
These explanations talk about the business side of city development but we may shift focus to define the type of cities on the basis of its urban environment and service delivery. Every city is trying to find out its own expertise by introducing new policiesin development plans, mobility plans, landscaping, green cover, and service delivery mechanism.
The mad rush to adopt a fancy term for city development would not help. A conclusive solution model having components to address the problems of a city must be taken into consideration for better results at ground level.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
What do these jargons really mean…
An inclusive city is a city in which the processes of development include wide variety of citizens and activities. These cities maintain their wealth and creative power by avoiding marginalization, which compromises the richness of interaction upon which cities depend.
(Source: Inclusive Urbanism)
A Resilient City is one that has developed capacities to help absorb future shocks and stresses to its social, economic, and technical systems and infrastructures so as to still be able to maintain essentially the same functions, structures, systems, and identity.
(Source: 100ResillientCity Project)
A sponge city is a city that is designed to passively absorb, clean and use rainfall in an ecologically friendly way that reduces dangerous and polluted runoff. Associated techniques include permeable roads, rooftop gardens, rainwater harvesting, rain gardens, green space and blue space such as ponds and lakes. (Source: Policy document, China’s Sponge City)
There are five fundamental aspects of great, livable cities: robust and complete neighborhoods, accessibility and sustainable mobility, a diverse and resilient local economy, vibrant public spaces, and affordability.
(Source: Livable City Plan of San Fransico)
Sustainable City Development
Improving the quality of life in a city, including ecological, cultural, political, institutional, social and economic components without leaving a burden on the future generations. A burden which is the result of a reduced natural capital and an excessive local debt. Our aim is that the flow principle, that is based on an equilibrium of material and energy and also financial input/output, plays a crucial role in all future decisions upon the development of urban areas.
(Source: The definition of sustainable urban development came up during URBAN21 Conference in Berlin)
Smart City and Definitions
“A Smart City provides effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver a sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for its citizens.”
(Source: BSI PAS 180- Smart Cities Vocabulary)
“Smart Cities use Information – Communication Technology (ICT) to engage citizens, to deliver city services, and to enhance urban systems.”
(Source: European Parliament Report)
“A smart sustainable city is an innovative city that uses Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of the present and future generations with respect to economic, social and environmental aspects.”