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Are We Smart Enough for Smart Cities?

Monday, January 01, 2018

By Amit wadhwani,
Director, Sai Estate Consultants

Smart city is the most trending term in India these days. The concept originated at the time when the entire world was facing one of the worst economic crises. In 2008, IBM began work on a ‘smarter cities’ concept as part of its Smarter Planet initiative. At the start of 2009, the concept had caught the imagination of various nations across the world. Currently, 31% of India’s population lives in cities; these cities also generate 63% of the nation’s economic activity. These numbers are quickly growing, with almost half of India’s population anticipated to live in its cities by 2030. Smart Cities focus on the most demanding needs and on the supreme opportunities to improve quality of life for residents today as well as future. But, the questions to ask here are: ‘do we really want a change’ and ‘are we ready for embarking on the path of change’. Are we prepared for the smarter cities? For any city to be smart, the foremost important constituent is the wellbeing and smartness of its citizens.

Any smart city desires smart citizens to function properly. To become smarter citizens, we need to associate to our cities more closely. Not only we should be aware about schemes and projects trending in our cities, but also we should exercise ‘Civic sense’, which is the main component of success of any urban programme or scheme.

Civic sense means social ethics – The positive perception, attitude understanding, towards society, community and public places. In fact, we call ourselves a ‘civilized society’ but lack civic sense in most of our practices. Due to lack of civic sense in urban citizens, the public spaces in our cities get affected majorly. We get fascinated to globally famous streets, squares and public spaces but we don’t stop and think over over our neglect and disrespect attitude or behaviour towards public property and spaces, which most of us have taken for granted. Stinking public offices, garbage dumps on roads, pee-ed on walls in every corner, rash driving, road rage, people littering and spitting everywhere, wasting water, smoking in public places are very common unkind practices which can be easily put right by citizens who think they are smart – but how can they consider themselves as smart citizen when they prefer living in a dirty, stinking, dump of a city!!!!

Freedom without discipline leads to disorder. We are free to use public space as we want but there is no self-imposed thoughtful discipline to keep it clean. For instance, we clean our houses daily and eject the dirt to the road and common staircases or areas. Why? Why don’t we have a collective ownership for such places – an ownership decided by usage not by legal documents?  We often question the municipality on the issue of the garbage and dirt in various parts of the city but fail to remember our role in keeping the city clean.  Empty plots are treated as open dust bins where one can dump garbage, so are our storm water drains and rivers. Window ACs that cool one’s personal space have become a menace for the public space. a. People install an AC for cooling their homes but forget about the water outlet in the street, which keeps troubling people drop by drop…and also dirties the street with puddles of water here and there –leading to public health issues.

We tend to care for only those things towards which we feel a sense of belongingness.  Most of us don’t connect to our cities. This is not a very ‘smart’ attitude.  “Citizens make cities and cities in turn make citizens what they aspire to be”. Initiatives like the Smart Cities Mission can be a great success only if citizens also play their role effectively. The conclusion is therefore; Smart cities need Smart citizens.

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