Smart City to Our City: Why Citizens Should Shape Their Cities

By Suvedh Jaywant

“Arre beta hi Smart City nahi Udyog kiti aahe! Changle raste aani property todun tithech kahitari navin banavun paise khanyache udyog chalavle aahet ya lokanni” (Son, this is not Smart City, this is Business City! This is the business of breaking something good that already exists and building over it to make money,” said Mr  Shivashankar, a coconut seller on the Dhole Patil road (DP Road), in Aundh, Pune. He meant that existing good quality public infrastructure is demolished and retrofitted again and again under the name of Smart City. He said this entire process was linked to corruption. The allegations made by this vendor on the footpath gave us an idea of the perception of the impoverished, common man towards the government’s Smart City Mission.

DP Road is one of the nine streets of Aundh which has been chosen to be developed into Smart Streets under the Pune Smart City Project. We, the students of the School of Habitat Studies, TISS, Mumbai, conducted a survey of these nine streets under the Winter Institute* coursework.

A popular school on the DP road provides services to around 7000 students in the area making it an important stakeholder in the process of transformation of the road. As a part of our survey, we decided to meet the principal of the school to understand her idea of a ‘Smart City’. She was happy with the overall idea of the Smart City, but was complaining about the newly constructed e-Public toilet and a bus stop shelter just outside the school. According to her, this bus stop shelter was installed just six months ago and no commuters boarded the bus from this point since it was the second last stop of the city bus. She felt that the bus-stop had become a nuisance for the school since boys from the neighbouring slum sit there the entire day. She mentioned that a few eve-teasing incidents had also taken place causing serious security concerns for the school. The school was in plans of requesting the ex-mayor of the city (a local informal power personality), who was also on their management board, to look into the matter and get the bus-stop shelter removed.

Just three days later, while we were on our field doing our survey, we saw a bulldozer demolishing this bus-stop. The photo clearly shows that the authorities could have neatly uninstalled it, however, they just evicted the structure with a bulldozer, making it not fit for reuse and increasing the scrap. When I was clicking the photo of this incidence, few more passers-by gathered there and started discussing how this bus-stop was installed only few months ago and how this process of installation and eviction is waste of public money.

Suvedh_Image
The question here is not whether the eviction of bus-stop was a right thing to do or not, but, certainly, some other basic questions like:

  • Who decided to install a bus-stop with the waiting area there? Were the residents consulted when the bus-stop was installed?
  • Who was consulted before the demolition? Was the opinion of all residents taken before this step?
  • Why didn’t the school or other residents take any objection while installing the bus stop?
  • Who will bear the financial loss incurred out of this installation-uninstallation activity?
  • Is this haphazardly demolished new bus-stop just going to be a piece of scrap for the municipality?
  • And most importantly, why aren’t the citizens opposing such unnecessary expenditure? 

It seemed like Mr. Bhimashankar’s perception about the smart city project was true. We often think public infrastructure is a common property owned by nobody. It belongs to the Government. So we tend to neglect the way it is developed or maintained and the government authorities are free to execute the works as per their convenience. However, public infrastructure is public property i.e. the property which is owned by all of us. We all are collectively responsible for its development and maintenance. The people should feel that this is my street and I should be a part of the development process. This feeling is not seen in the people. The municipal authorities also get orders from the top and just execute the work.

Till when will the ‘top-down’ approach continue? Does Smart City mean only creating new infrastructure? Or is there a need to involve the real owners of the city i.e. the people, in planning processes? Isn’t there a need to create smart citizens too? A sense of ownership must be created among the citizens to get their active participation and making the streets smart. Else the blame game between citizens and institutions will be continued even in this ‘Smart’ Era.


The Winter Institute is a full-fledged 3 credit Course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program of the School of Habitat Studies conducted in the first year. It is conceived as a platform for interdisciplinary collaborative learning through research and action in the field. The blog series showcases the work, reflections and opinions of the students, and not the Centre.

To see institute reports from previous batches visit our website: http://urk.tiss.edu/winter-institute.html

 

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