June 14, 2016

The Smart City Delusion

CEO and Senior Fellow Reuben Abraham, and James Crabtree, in this The Straits Times article, argue that "these visions of technological utopia face a real risk of turning into expensive delusions...

 

India announced the names of a dozen more smart cities last month, bringing to 33 the number of urban areas that will now spend a reported US$12 billion (S$16.3 billion) installing everything from traffic-management technologies to smart electricity grids...

 

The idea of smart cities looks especially attractive to politicians in poorer Asian and African nations, as they try to tame urban areas dogged by weak governance, corruption and poor public services. And in countries like India, the current smart cities PR blitz has proven helpful as a means of both focusing political energy on urbanisation, and ending a damaging rural bias dating back to national founder Mohandas Gandhi. Leaders across emerging Asia now know they will have to cope with massive future migration to cities. In India, an estimated 250 million will move away from rural villages over the two decades to 2030. The share of gross domestic product generated by cities in countries like India is expected to rise to more than 70 per cent by 2020, according to Barclays...

 

Nations like India, whose cities are beset by slums, yearn for a similarly prosperous urban future. But getting there will require major governance and policy changes, as any visitor to Bangalore or New Delhi will quickly realise...

 

...plans for smart cities in poorer countries tend to over-focus on glass and chrome buildings and gee-whiz technology, while saying little about the people who already live there...

 

At a deeper level, excitement about smart cities tends to rest on the misapprehension that digitising something makes it smart. Technology can play a role in making cities more liveable, but it is a means to that end, not an end in itself...

 

The upshot is that countries like India have to be more realistic about what smart cities can deliver...

 

...all involved should emphasise simpler urban renewal projects, such as renovating existing "brownfield" developments or making it much easier to develop new neighbourhoods with easy land acquisitions rules...

 

India, in particular, has long failed to help its cities develop sensible plans for expansion, or to combat corruption. As a result, most urban areas suffer higgledy-piggledy growth and are riven by graft - problems that technology alone cannot now fix.  Technology has a role to play in enabling Asia's urbanisation, but it is unlikely to provide the first step or the final answer...

 

There is no shame in saying that being a less dumb city is the first and most important step to becoming smart."

 

Read the full article here.

Topic : Transitions / In : OP-EDS
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