Before Cities Can Become Smart, They Must First Be Empowered

The smart city’s pursuit of a top-down approach to city planning and management defies the core ideas of participation and citizenship that must drive the urban project
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  Before Cities CanBecome Smart,They Must FirstBe Empowered BY MUKTA NAIK ON27/08/2015 ¥ 4 COMMENTS The smart cityÕs pursuit of a top-down approachto city planning and management deÞes thecore ideas of participation and citizenship thatmust drive the urban project  What say will they get in a smart city? Credit: Chris JL/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 On Thursday, the Government of India unveiled a list of 98 cities CITIES & ARCHITECTURE Before Cities Can Become Smart, They Must First Be Empowered ... of 728/08/15 10:22 am  that will be made part of the Prime MinisterÕs Smart City project.Policymakers and urban experts alike have interpreted the smartcity as an opportunity to address the pain points of IndiaÕs urbanpopulations. Even as it is couched in the language of citizenparticipation, however, the smart cities mission launched by thegovernment scuttled the very democratic processes that Indiancitizens are constitutionally entitled to. This contradiction ispainfully apparent in the comparison of the citizen-centric smartcity that features in the Prime MinisterÕs public rhetoric to thetop-heavy smart city model that is conjured by his governmentÕsguidelines. The ideal model Despite definitional ambiguities, the smart city has been admiredand critiqued as a technological fix for Indian cities. However, inpresenting the smart city as  ( will-plan-their-city-Narendra-Modi-on-Smart-cityproject/articleshow /47818894.cms)  Òone that remains two steps ahead in anticipatingthe needs of its citizens and provides itÓ, Modi has attempted totake the idea out of the technical realm and directly to the people.This customer-centric smart city intends to change the narrativearound Indian urbanisation; cities are no longer to play eternalcatch up, instead they are to be ahead of the game. All the right buzzwordsÑtechnology, environment-friendly development,energy saving, walk to work and citizen participationÑare inplace.To support the idea of citizen participation, the PM has placed aninordinate emphasis on decentralised decision-making. Projectapprovals for new urban sector schemes, including the AtalMission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation of 500cities (AMRUT) and Housing for All or Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna that were launched at the same time as the smart citiesmission, are now with the states and not the Centre. The fulcrumof power and decision making for the smart cities scheme,however, is imagined to be at city-level, while the state and Before Cities Can Become Smart, They Must First Be Empowered ... of 728/08/15 10:22 am  Central government play ÒsupportÓ roles. This is reflected in thecompetitive nature of the selection of the 100 smart cities that will receive the funding (a total outlay of Rs 50,000 crore); eachselected city would get central assistance of Rs. 100 crore per year for five years. In describing the ÔChallengeÓ route, the PMlinked competition with excellence and made clear that heexpected decisions to be with local governments, seemingly fostering a Òbottom-up approachÓ. False assurances of city autonomy  The PM called upon city leaders Òto endeavour to leave behindtheir legacy, leave a mark on the city during their tenureÓconjuring up a scenario in which CEOs with substantial powersare in charge of cities. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Inreality, mayors in Indian cities have no powersÑmost arerendered ineffective by a mere two-year term in officeÑmunicipalities are financially and administratively weak anddevolution of power to urban local bodies has simply not beeneffective. Indian cities are plagued with interference by the stategovernment and the multiplicity of agenciesÑlocal and State-levelÑthat often work at cross-purposes.Instead of laying a roadmap to empower local governments andincentivising state governments to support cities with increasedcapacity, faster decision-making and increased autonomy, thesmart cities mission has taken the easier way out. The Smart City project will be planned and implemented by special purpose vehicles (SPVs), registered under the Companies Act. The CEO of the SPV, not the city mayor is the head honcho of the smart city transformation that Modi referred to in his speech. The fundsfrom the Centre will be channelled to cities through this SPV,making it the clear fulcrum for the ÔsmartÕ transition of theselected cities. With all levels of government having representatives on its board, the SPV is presented as an instrument crafted to ensurethe cooperation of the state and local government under the Before Cities Can Become Smart, They Must First Be Empowered ... of 728/08/15 10:22 am  supervision of the Centre. Making the state government andurban local body (ULB) the co-financiers and joint moralguardians of the smart city SPV appears as an attempt to changeexisting state-ULB power dynamics in favour of the city, at leastfor the purpose of the smart city projects. However, the structureof the board does not accord more vote share or weightage tomunicipal officials or elected representatives. It remains unclearhow these junior level bureaucrats will prevail over morepowerful IAS cadre officers appointed from the state and Centre.Moreover, the guidelines are clear that the elected municipal body is expected to devolve its powers to the SPV for thepurposes of the Smart City project. The real need of empoweringelected city governmentsÑand by extension empoweringcitizensÑfor long-term urban development in accordance with the intent of the 74 amendment has, once again, been bypassed. Sustaining the smartness, an iffy proposition It is perfectly legitimate, therefore, to be concerned about thelong-term sustainability of the smart city. The guidelines aresilent on the interaction of the SPV and ULB over time. How doesa city function during the implementation of the smart city project, with the ULB and the SPV governing separate pieces of it? At what point does the SPV cease to exist, handing urbangovernance (of the now ÔsmartenedÕ city) back to the electedmunicipal government?There appears a disconnect between the PMÕs stated vision of decentralised city-level decision making and the structure of theSPV as currently envisaged, in which the state and the Centralgovernment have considerable say Ñcertainly beyond theÔsupportÕ role that the PM emphasisesÑand the ULB not enough Without the autonomy and confidence to create and execute a vision for urban growth, without strong local governments, it isunlikely that Indian cities (all cities, not just smart ones) can bethe Òengines of growthÓ that Modi demands. The smart city  th Before Cities Can Become Smart, They Must First Be Empowered ... of 728/08/15 10:22 am  program could have achieved a lot more if it had made aconscious attempt to leverage the opportunity to empower localgovernments and enhance their capacities instead of creating aparallel structure for implementation.  Mukta Naik is an urban planner and currently Senior Researcher at Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi  ! Categories: Cities & Architecture  ( ,Featured  ( " Tagged as: 100 smart cities  ( , AMRUT ( , Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and UrbanTransformation  ( , housing for all  ( , Narendra Modi ( , Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna  ( , Smart Cities  ( , SmartCity project  ( , SPV   ( ,urban local bodies  (  What to read next: Before Cities Can Become Smart, They Must First Be Empowered ... of 728/08/15 10:22 am
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