[Urbanstudy] What the Hell is a smart city anyway? Manu Joseph

Vinay Baindur yanivbin at gmail.com
Sun May 3 23:03:16 CDT 2015


What the Hell is a smart city anyway?

   - Manu Joseph
   - Updated: May 04, 2015 02:31 IST

The Delhi Metro is impressive; it provides adequate facilities for all
reasonable human needs; and finally it threatens to penalise, a threat that
is taken seriously by commuters. Pankaj Savita/HT

We the people of Gurgaon heard great laughter fill its haze. The sounds
were coming from all directions, and from men, women and camels. It was
probably desert delirium that made us hear these sounds, but our enquiries
revealed there was indeed an occurrence that could cause such behaviour: A
cabinet minister had stated, “Gurgaon will become a smart city in the next
one year.”

It was only recently that we had understood the meaning of ‘millennium
city’, which is the official honorific of a town that some people call
‘Builder’s Shit’ or ‘DLF PhasePalm’.

The meaning of ‘millennium city’ had revealed itself when a clever girl
pointed out to the morons who live here that AD 1000, too, is technically a
millennium. Now we have to nervously but swiftly ascertain the meaning of
‘smart city’. We know it only as the prime minister’s “vision”.

We are, of course, acquainted with Wikipedia but it did not help. The
minister also said, “We have chosen Gurgaon city as a pilot project to
develop the smart city. We have directed the concerned officials to come up
with a blue print in the next 15 days.”

The laughter rose from the motorists who were driving on the right (it is
legal; driving on the left, too, is legal) on the National Highway 8 from
Manesar towards Rajiv Chowk.

The school bus driver who was about to run over a pilot on Sohna Road, too,
laughed. The pilot who was returning from a gym and had been trying to
cross the road safely, too, let out a final laugh. The ophthalmologist
laughed but turned serious as she told her child patient that dry eyes,
like respiratory ailments, were normal in Gurgaon because of “suspended
particles in the air”. Labourers who were digging a ditch near Cyber City
laughed though they usually laugh only when asked why they were digging.

Truck drivers who were mugging a recreational cyclist on the Faridabad
highway and relieving him of his Garmin watch; and the whole village of
almost beautiful prostitutes in the shrubs shook with laughter.

So did the former farmers in paramilitary uniform who work as guards even
though they are malnourished. The cops who run a police station whose two
holding cells contain human excrement that have gathered over months,
laughed the most. One woman laughed but that was because someone had asked
her, “Does Gurgaon have a sewage system?”

A terrifying fact then that Gurgaon is among the better cities of India.

The chief reason why the government believes that it can convert Gurgaon
into a smart city in a year is that it plans to put in place a power grid
that would supply unfaltering electric supply to most of the city. Such a
grid would be called ‘Smart Grid’.

Is that all it takes to build a smart city? Gurgaon is among 100 cities
that would be deemed potential smart cities.

The Centre would provide Rs 100 crore to develop every chosen city, a small
fraction of the actual cost of bringing meaningful change to any Indian
city, a cost that would be largely borne, to an unknown extent, by private

There have been statements made by government officials that give the
impression that the future of Indian cities is in the hands of rustics. In
January, the urban development minister, Venkaiah Naidu, said that Delhi
would be developed into a “global city”, and, of course, a “smart city”,
and that the government wanted  “to have world-class entertainment venues
like Disneyland or Universal Studios here”.

He also announced that a “lake city” would be developed near Sanjay Lake in
East Delhi. “The lake city and the smart city should be a place where
tourists can go…”

It is a mystery why so much nonsense has to be uttered to describe what is
essentially an important and a humane idea, which is that India must
modernise its urban planning. Indians are fleeing their villages in large
numbers, and all cities and towns are beginning to collapse. In the coming
decades population that would fit into republics would live in several
Indian cities.

Contrary to the image that the government has portrayed in its boyish
small-town enthusiasm through the branding of ‘smart cities’, an image that
is dominated by the cheap brochure art of gleaming buildings as though the
government wishes nothing more than carving out business districts for a
minority, the actual goal of this government’s urban project is exemplary.
India is planning for an urban future. Narendra Modi does not have to make
this story sexy.

There is a feeling among Indians that no matter what the quality of
infrastructure, Indian cities will be in absolute disorder because of the
fundamental nature of Indians, who are, at a civic level, the freest humans
that ever lived. We can do things that people in most nations cannot
imagine, and an interaction between extreme freedoms is always chaos. What
disproves the hypothesis that disorder is the natural state of Indians is
the Delhi Metro, which deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for the way it has
transformed lives and inspired several metro systems across India.

In the Delhi Metro system, commuters do not spit or urinate in the trains
or on the platforms. They even stand in queues. They behave differently
within and outside the metro system. There are three chief reasons for
this. The Delhi Metro is impressive; it provides adequate facilities for
all reasonable human needs; and finally it threatens to penalise, a threat
that is taken seriously by commuters because of the first reason — the
metro is efficient, hence it must also be efficient in carrying out its
threats. That is what a city must ideally do: Impress, provide and punish.
To that end, Delhi Metro is a smart city in transit.

If you say that in Gurgaon, we won’t laugh.

*Manu Joseph is a journalist and the author of the novel, The Illicit
Happiness of Other PeopleTwitter: @manujosephsanThe views expressed by the
author are personal*
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