Thursday, June 18, 2015

Smart Cities are here, where are Smart Citizens?

“In great cities, spaces as well as places are designed and built: walking, witnessing, being in public, are as much part of the design and purpose as is being inside to eat, sleep, make shoes or love or music. The word citizen has to do with cities, and the ideal city is organized around citizenship -- around participation in public life.”
…Rebecca Solnit.

Rebecca Solnit is a writer who lives in San Francisco, California. She has written on a variety of subjects, including the environment, politics, place, and art. And no wonder as she resides in probably one of the best city her views about the city are so open , so very human which makes her all time great critics about urban planning especially city planning! Well in past one year what is the most used or referred term in urban India? Answer is uniquely one term & it’s “Smart City”! This is why I choose quote of Rebecca to start this sharing. I am no city planner neither any urban designer yet somewhere because of my profession I have been associated with the term “City’ very closely! As real estate is one profession which is very much dependent rather byproduct of a city life & that’s why since long when I first heard the term Smart City though my thought process was curiously on about it yet I was trying to gather as much knowledge I can about this term! As per many philosopher planners, architects every city has a face & it’s given by the citizen so whenever I heard Smart City term I used to think what it means by a smart city? Does it mean it has all the best gadgets like whole city WI fi & every action right from signals to infrastructural systems from drainage to water supply to public transport are controlled by one single computer like thing? Does the city can think rather is there any such thing like considering a city as one single personality as we call smart to an individual then how can we make a city smart? 

On this back ground first of all let’s see why the need of smart cities has arrived? Are there not already well developed & planned cities like Chandigarh or Ahmadabad i.e. Gandhinagar or New Delhi or for some part even New Mumbai which was planned keeping better life of citizen in mind? And then we have Metro cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai & Kolkata which are having great deal of potential & serving billions of its citizens for years! So what’s this need of smart cities in addition? Well answer lies in the current situation of existing cities as well the shifting of population’s fulcrum towards urbanization in last few decades. Till year 2000 we were semi urban country with most population living in small towns or villages but suddenly like an elephant getting awake from deep sleep & started running the Internet era grabbed our hundred crore plus population & speedily the social boundaries between city & villages were melted, too fast it happened before anyone realized it! Earlier a village or town boy like me has seen plush apartments in city like Mumbai only in movies & was happy as well contended with whatever surrounding we used to live. Same was with the boy who was in Mumbai about cities like San Francisco which were shown in some Hollywood movies or big budget Hindi movies. But come era of IT & Software, even village boys can have live access to all the information of life styles of Amabnai’s Antelia residence & boys from Punerei Peths have become frequent traveler to Bay area in USA. What this change has done is it has enhanced expectations of people about the surrounding they are living in! As now they have seen what it means better life which in actual is outcome of better infrastructure (though I defer personally about this concept but we will come to that point later) & now people are demanding this better infrastructure all around the country!  

This is where the concept of smart cities has been roped in by the present rulers is what I feel! As by next election more than fifty percent voters will be coming from the urban localities & if they are not happy with their surroundings in city as well with the facilities their city is offering then we don’t need an astrologer for the elections outcome & present rulers are smart enough to know this!
Now when the concept of smart cities has been launched but by me what is needed most is a standard pattern of explaining what it takes to make a smart city which is missing & even the top bureaucrats or the aristocrats are also not clear how to make a city smart is the scene around.  Here I remember the way world automobile giant Toyota works; while I was working on their service center in Pune, they sent us a manual about the service center & right from the logo at reception to service bay sizes & specifications everything has been documented so as there isn’t any space left for doubt or discretion & making its look same like any service station on free way in USA! This is what we need, detailed documentation of the concept smart city in depth & with proper definitions of the terminology. Even if it takes a year or two doesn’t matter but it’s a must or else even if the concept may be noble but the implementation is going to happen at local level & we all have witnessed especially with our beloved Pune city what’s happens with however great idea it may be! See the infamous BRT; we have invented the term mixed BRT, only the local body can tell what it means as where barricades are there its dedicated bus route or else its part of common road traffic! My my, I have seen a hilarious movie named, "Gods Must Be Crazy”, I think after looking at what we have done with our public transport  & with BRT, there can be a movie with name, “Punekars Must Be Crazy”!

What worries me most is the entire concept may get washed away if the people associated with it don’t understand the gist of the concept! More important is a manual which will decide the way the concept should be implemented as again I put forward that the brain child Smart City may have come from top level but the executioners are locals only! And a city where a new road gets dug very next of its surfacing for any numbers of reasons like laying water line to optical fiber cable, we all can imagine what will happen if proper guide lines are not given about making a smart city. Another aspect is defining clear responsibilities of every task in the smart city or else like cc TV fixing; the cameras were installed all over the city for controlling traffic chaos & signal jumping but no output the city got as who will maintain these cameras & who will process the millions of images was the issue as neither PMC nor Police were accepting the responsibility of cameras maintenance, leave apart the action about output of these cameras! If you dig the road for drainage line or water line by PMC i.e. local body then there are no charges but if MSEDCL dig is for power cables then they have to pay for whooping RS 5000/meter! And funny thing is all three i.e. drainage, water, power lines are part of public infrastructure only, such jokes can happen in this city only! On this back ground now one can understand the difficulties in making a city smart city as right from coordination between the governing bodies smartness is necessary & who is going to achieve it. So while making a smart city clear cut responsibility fixing of authorities right from planning to execution is a must & what if the responsible body fails to execute should also be very clear as then only people will perform!

After all smartness is something one has to feel & experience & not to be measured as how you are going to decide whether a city is smart or not? It’s the standard of living of the citizen which will reflect that & all one will expect is there should be minimum botheration for day to day living in a city. No problem of digging any road but repair it in time & properly is what a road commuter expects. People are ready to pay the property tax but the give them services mentioned on the tax bill. Here if a stray dog got killed on road accident, his dead body keeps rotting on streets for days as no one comes to pick it up is a fact! In a smart city all is expected is people should know who is responsible for every service provided & that responsible person is in place to respond in case of any problem in service arises! 
Another very important aspect is getting all the necessary permissions in time for whatever development private sector will be doing as no smart city can be developed without participation of private sector. Here a genuine developer or any businessman has to face two fold challenges; one is getting all sorts of permissions for his business as he is doing everything legally & then second is competition from illegal players in the profession who cares a hang about any law & yet gets away with it!  Also a respect for law has to be there in the minds of every citizen whoever he or she may be which isn’t a seen right now. This is the city where very basic law like following a traffic signal is also obeyed only if traffic police s there & the concerned police too are busy in collecting fines after breaking the signal than stopping the commuters from jumping it!

So, what is equally important while making a smart city is making the citizens smart in first place! Recently in Pune, along all the bridges on nallahs & natural streams I saw a nearly 20’ high chain link railing being erected. When I asked one of my PMC friends the reason he said it’s to make people refrain from throwing garbage in the nallah! God bless this city as what next? Make wear a mask to every persons mouth so he won’t spit on road or make chain link cage around every citizen to stop them throwing garbage around or fix a cc TV camera behind every person to keep trace of his breaking the civic law? Well, smartness is a characteristic or concept behind a city & any city you can plan & develop on smart concepts but to maintain it smart only the people living in the city can do it & by their own behavior! Let’s hope the top bosses understand this fact & then execute the smart city concept or else it will end up as one more fad in the eyes of common man & money making machine by many; like the last scheme named JNNURM from central govt was there!

To conclude I will give two recent examples which I witnessed about our present city; there was news about some Inamdar hospital building & illegal constructions of its building. Here when a common man goes for extension of his bungalow he has to go through all sorts of sanctioning grind & yet even a smallest irregularity in construction then every govt agency is ready to punish him but look at the news about this hospital, they have built five floors without any sanction is what PMC officials accepts yet they stood proudly without any action against them! Another example is even if I want to erect a small hording on my own project then I need permissions or else the PMC squad makes me remove the hoarding & fines me! But last week I was walking on paud road & there was usual cutouts of an Education Don (I think that’s a proper word than Shikashan Maharshi) & on the footpath & cycle tracks were blocked by these cutouts & no PMC or Police authority was taking any action on the same! What message we are sending to the common man by such attitude?  

I think in the so called Smart City, all the citizens should be treated as equal in front of the law then only it will become as smart city! So let’s remember a city becomes smart not by the rules or systems or buildings it has; but by the attitude of its citizens & every individual citizen has to understand & accept this responsibility towards the city; as there only lies the hope for making our city smart!


Sanjay Deshpande

Sanjeevani Dev.

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  1. Dear Sanjay,
    A very honest and sincere article by you. I feel the basic difference is Praja and Nagrik. When were are born we are Praja and sanskar make us a civilised Nagrik. We have a long way to make the transition from Praja to Nagrik.
    Amit Karode

  2. dear amit thanks a lot,yes "sanskar" is the key to become a smart citizen & we all should try in our way!


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