Unpacking the Smart City - IIA NATCON 2016 Presentations

Events Diary Dated:  Dec. 19, 2016
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Indian Institute of Architects - Karnataka Chapter

Speakers at the Session 6 titled 'Unpacking the Smart City' at the recently concluded IIA Natcon 2016 at Bengaluru deliberated on:

Focal Points:

  • What are the criteria by which we can label a city as 'smart'?
  • Is the 'smart city' a revolutionary or incremental change to current urbanism?
  • Can we aim for the efficiency of the 'smart city' without keeping privacy, justice and equity in mind?
  • What are the connections between technology, ideology, and urbanism?

About the Speakers:

Partha Mukhopadhyay is senior fellow at Centre of Policy Research (CPR), New Delhi. Before joining CPR, he was part of the founding team at IFC. He has also been with he EXIM Bank of India and with the World Bank in Washington and on the faculty of IIM, Ahmedabad, XLRI Jamshedpur and SPA New Delhi. He has been associated with a number of government committees. His research interests are in urbanisation, infrastructure and the development paths of India and China. He publishes extensively and his latest book is Power, Policy and Protest (OUP. 2014) edited with Rob Jenkins and Loraine Kennedy.

G Sampath is a journalist, critic and writer based in Delhi. He is presently the social affairs editor at The Hindu. In his comment pieces, analyses, and reportage, he likes to explore the social and cultural dimensions of public policy, economics and technology. He was previously a columnist with Livemint and a deputy editor and books editor with Daily News and Analysis (DNA) in Mumbai. He is the author of How to Make Enemies and Offend People (2013). a book of satirical non-fiction, and editor of The Pleasure Principle (2016), a fiction anthology.

A Srivathsan is an architect and urban designer, currently working as the Academic Director, CEPT University Ahmedabad. His research includes the study of urban forms of temple towns in Tamil Nadu, envisioning Chennai as a global city and recurring city and the urban history of Chennai. Before joining CEPT University, Srivathsan worked as a Senior Deputy Editor for 8 years at The Hindu, a national newspaper, and taught for ten years at the Anna University. Chennai Kapi Gupta, the co-founder of Serie Architects and Principal of Serie Mumbai moderated this session.

Speakers' Thoughts:

The session began with Partha's take on 'The Smarting City: Pieces of Putty or Places of Protest?' Indian cities are continuously being acted upon. Someone is trying to turn them into something or the other: the latest attempt is to make some of them smart. How are cities reacting to this external attempt to shape them? Are they acquiescing quietly, like pieces of putty or are they pushing back - becoming places of protest, smarting under the indignity of being constantly asked to be something or another without a voice of their own?

G. Sampath spoke on 'The Politics of Smart'. The Smart Cities Mission is a flagship programme of the government of India. But the idea did not originate in India nor was it debated widely before being adopted as the overarching, if not the only, framework for urban renewal in the country. So, where does the idea of smart city come from and where does it lead us? His presentation made two basic points: one, that 'the smart city', first and foremost is a discourse, and as a discourse, its function is to accomplish certain political (rather than civic or urban development) goals; and two - a primary political goal of the smart city discourse is privatisation, not only of the provision of social and civic goods, but of governance itself. The talk concluded with some thoughts on how we can think about whether or not 'smartness' is a useful value for addressing India's urban development problems.

A. Srivathsan's presentation argued about 'State speaks Smart City'. Discourses on Smart City, in the words at Antoine Picon, a historian of architecture and technology, are broadly classified into two categories: ones that view it is a cybernetic project and the others that see it as democratic empowerment. While this may be true in a broader sense, in the Indian context, Smart City must be primarily understood as a 'State Speak' than an urban vision. The smart city scheme, like a few others before, is an instance of the State using its "expressive capacities' to mark its presence and should not be taken as a cogent idea or plan. Failures and inadequacies of earlier instances of 'State Speak' have not necessarily compelled a rethink, but on the contrary, created scope for more centralised, ambitious and tenuous ideas.

Source: IIA, Karnataka Chapter. Reproduced as Digital Partner, NATCON.

Find the other presentations here:

Session 1, Session 2, Session 3, Session 4, Session 5

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