First understand then implement: SDGs

Smart city agenda is a set of lofty goals. we need to apply it in the context of development. Basic need of city must interface with smart city, knowledge transfer and expectation of the people

The theme of the 4th South Asian City Summit is Localizing Sustainable Development Goals. You carry immense experience in the field of local
self-government. What are your views on localizing sustainable development goals?

I have been listening to the shift and the interpretation of how this goal can be understood. Secondly how it can be implemented in a meaningful way at local urban and rural context. Even the study of smart city agenda is quite a lofty set of goals. The question is how do we apply it in the development context where basic city needs are interfacing with smart city, knowledge transfer, agendas and expectation, of the people, of the politicians, of the community.

And now the communities themselves are asking can we be a smart city? The citizens and the politicians are navigating and interpreting in a meaningful way how will this work here, what do we need? Do we need resource? Do we need knowledge? Do we need expertise and technology? Or do we need political vision? Or may be some package of all of these things to make the agenda real.

You talked about smart city project. India has also embarked upon it. 100 cities have been selected to be converted into smart cities. I am sure the smart city concept of New Zealand will be different from India’s. In New Zealand how do you look at the smart city as you go about developing them and what kind of thought process goes into that?

It’s a very good question. In New Zealand the smart city agenda is interfacing with advanced technology. We are at internet of things and remote interfacing is allowing citizens to access apps to describe. For example benefits of free parking spaces, rubbish collection, citizen participation, etc. The larger cities in New Zealand like Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are adopting LED street lighting programs to improve city safety.

The politicians are making claims that cities are smart hubs and in the context of activation of city spaces. Urban spaces which may have been previously neglected are reassessed and the spacesare lit by LED lights. It boosts the night economy shopping because people come back into the cities feeling safe with their family to shop and to talk and have coffee and share ideas, these are the ways where smart cites are becoming meaningful. In New Zealand technology is one key and communities are reclaiming urban space.

You talked about reclaiming urban spaces. But as the urbanisation is happening in big measure, land is required to execute the projects and in that process the actual urban spaces are being reclaimed for those projects which is quiet detrimental to the communities of that particular city. How do you a balance between
the two?

The challenge of the urban city agenda is that no city is left behind, no person is left behind, everyone should have expectations and opportunity of participation be negotiated. When complex agendas are playing out and urban spaces where constraints exist may not fully enable the realisation of our political vision because of resource challenge or environment, climate change or limited resources to implement vision or planning
capacity gaps.

We need to build capacity and planning to enable integration between political vision and the services and infrastructure development. To reach the pinnacle of smart city realis ation, there are things which cities still must attend to. It may require radical collaboration between small and big cities. We need to share knowledge, share case studies, go and visit, listen from projects which succeeded and failed so that we do not repeat the same mistakes.

If we talk about sustainable development goals 2030 or the declaration of the World Urban Forum, it talks about inclusivity. You cannot create a city where you exclude a large number of people.
But then there are constraints you talked about like resources, expertise and technology. So how big is the challenge do you think as we are just 12 years away from 2030?

These are big challenges but big opportunities as well. For me the opportunities are to enable first who has a voice and the choice. There has to be participatory budgeting, how community accesses choices of city spender to prioritise community visions. We need to address both communities, the settled ones and the new communities to negotiate access to resources, access to democracy and an access to opportunity to present their aspirations.

City officials must provide appropriate funding to implement projects which have action plans and road maps. Hopefully with our road map to 2030 they will take the coordination and resourcing to allow the project to be community owned to mitigate risk and enable full realisation of sustainable development goals.

We need to eradicate risk from carbon emersion and meet poverty reduction goals. These may challenge social norms, corruption, lack of transparency, contracts which may not have been fully delivered. So, this puts the focus on the effective and efficient city organisers, excellence of bench marking and how study tracks all of the sustainable development goals. In New Zealand we launched local government New Zealand excellence program, all councilors are staying up, the matrix meets community’s needs, and the councils are measured against these goals. They are transparent.

But in developing countries, especially in the third world countries, we have seen that once the city officials are elected or a political representative is elected after that there is a complete delinking of the two. The policies, the way they are framed is completely devoid of any participatory democracy. If you don’t take the views and the opinion of the people into consideration and frame the policy at the top then obviously it’s not going to work at the bottom?

In New Zealand, when we work with elected officials, we say to them you have got into office on an agenda and you will be marked at the end of your term against the agenda and the promises you made. Politician may say that bureaucrats stopped me, we tell them who is in charge.

The government owns the strategy, the manager delivers that strategy and reports accountability against the strategy. We see the management and the good council officers we work with follow this. If management owns the strategy, the governance is critical for implementation. The government and management have to take ownership to deliver implementation of the strategy.

My last question is, what vision should the global community have? There are countries which can be categorised as haves and there are countries which can be categorized as have nots. How will these two meet because there comes the question of technology transfer, funding, supporting through mechanism. So do you see a possibility that these two can meet at some point?

We have local example at New Zealand, a long time development partner of the pacific region. What roles do we want, whether to develop others, this is an enabling voice for us. If they transfer technology into developing countries, is the transferring technology is destabilising us? So in New Zealand we first transfer as the structure supports, second transfer is eco-system support, the third is of the local and the indigenous structure for sustainability and the fourth is using the technology but make sure it works.

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