Are We Smart Enough for Smart Cities?

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. By the beginning 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 rapidly increasing, with almost half of India’s population projected to live in its cities by 2030. Smart Cities focus on the most pressing needs and on the greatest opportunities to improve quality of life for residents today and in the 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 needs smart citizens to function properly. To become  smarter citizens we need to connect to our cities more closely. Not only should we be aware about schemes and projects happening in our cities, we should exercise ‘Civic sense’, which is the main ingredient of success of any urban programme or scheme.

Civic sense means social ethics – The positive perception, understanding, attitude, towards society and community and public places. In fact we call ourselves a ‘civilized society’ but lack civic sense in most of our practices. The worst hit by this deficiency in urban citizens are the public spaces in our cities. We get attracted to globally famous streets, squares and public spaces but we don’t stop and ponder over our disregard and disrespect 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 ill practices which can be easily put right by citizens who think they are smart – but how can they be 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 cool ing 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.

Contributed by Yusra Gul Faraz

Photos by Ishleen Dheer and Himanshu Gupta

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