The Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India, recently launched the Smart Cities Mission (SCM) with a high level of political support. The Mission’s objectives are closely aligned with those articulated in SDG11 – making cities safe, resilient, and sustainable. Early experiences with rolling out the SCM indicate that there remain significant technical and institutional deficiencies at the local level for realising the Mission’s objectives.
There is a fundamental gap between the types of technological solutions being proposed and whether these solutions, and the manner in which they are being implemented, are necessarily promoting inclusivity, resilience and sustainability from the perspective of economically and socially disadvantaged urban residents.
The “Capacity Building for Smart Data and Inclusive Cities” (SDIC) project aims to address this gap by strengthening technical and institutional capacities by working directly with municipal authorities participating in the Smart Cities Mission in four secondary cities in India. The project will draw a connection between technological and relational solutions; between big data and ‘small’ or local data; between the ability of urban authorities to deal with cutting edge technologies and their abilities to incorporate information and insights from everyday citizens; and most fundamentally, between a vision of smart cities that emphasises technocratic ‘data driven’ governance and a vision of being smart that emphasises and prioritises using new technologies to make urban society and urban life more inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. The project approach, which is referred to as “smart data for inclusive cities” turns the focus away from simply trying to use ‘smart’ technologies, and places the focus on being ‘smart’ about how we use technologies.
The SDIC project is built around three-year collaboration between the National Institute of Urban Affairs (India), the Institute of Development Studies (UK) and the relevant municipal authorities in two northern and two southern cities: Bhopal and Jabalpur (in Madhya Pradesh) and Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi (in Kerala). These cities are also at various points in their engagement with the Smart Cities Mission (SCM), and therefore the proposed collaborations provide a unique opportunity to assess and respond to the changing needs and constraints of the local authorities as their engagement with the SCM matures.