‘Smart cities’ as sociotechnical imaginaries have been enthusiastically embraced by urban planners and policymakers around the world.
In 2014, the government of India launched its Smart Cities Mission ostensibly to create socially inclusive and sustainable cities. Aspiring to make their cities smart, and following guidelines provided by the national government, urban authorities from all corners of India submitted proposals to compete in a Smart City Challenge. If successful, they would receive financial and technical support from the national government, to carry out the proposed smart transformations.
Focussing on the urban mobility aspects of one such proposal, submitted by New Town, Kolkata, we assess how democratically transformative was the collective process of imagining smart cities in India. A democratically transformative process not only imagines the benefits of smart transformations to be widely distributed across different sections of the city, but it is also participatory and articulated. A participatory process affords possibilities to the most marginalised citizens to engage and raise their diverging and dissenting voices. And an articulated process registers the voices of the most marginalised in the sociotechnical imaginary it produces.
Our results indicate that while considerable efforts were made to engage with citizens in the making of the imaginary, the process remained highly uneven and technology-centric, shaped by ‘globalised’ aspirations of urban smartness and by the upper and middle classes, leaving behind the voices and needs of poor and marginalised citizens of Kolkata.