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Bring in human factor in smart city mission

Recently published city rankings by IESE Cities in Motion Index has a shocker and at the same time an eye opener for us as none of Indian cities figure in top 100 or even 150 cities in the world. Bengaluru with a rank of 159 tops the list of Indian cities out of 174 who had participated in the competition. Performance of Indian cities would have been even worse had there been more number of cities participated in the competition. It’s a shocker because we are aiming to become 3rdlargest economy in the world in next one decade and in all probability we will be able to reach there. Meanwhile none of our cities are worthy of living for our people. It clearly shows our wrong prioritisation and misguided direction of growth.

A notion, of course misinformed one, has been created that smart cities are all about technology and digitisation. But it must not be forgotten that the human factor is fundamental in the development of cities. Without a participatory and active society, any strategy, albeit intelligent and comprehensive, will be doomed to failure. We should never forget that beyond technological and economic development, it is the inhabitants who hold the key for cities to go from “smart” to “wise.” That should be precisely our goal and all our efforts, both citizens and the authorities, should  deploy all their talent in favour of progress in this direction.

In India, with 1.3 billion population, the main goal of our cities should be to improve its human capital. A city with smart governance must be capable of attracting and retaining talent, creating plans to improve education, and promoting both creativity and research.  Though human capital includes many factors, level of education and access to culture are irreplaceable components for measuring human capital.

A high level of expenditure by the public on education in cities is an indicator that the state’s budget allocations for education are insufficient, since they oblige the public to assume that cost in order to gain access to a suitable education. Further, the number of museums, art galleries and theatres and the expenditure on leisure and recreation indicate how much the city values its culture. Unfortunately, our cities never consider them as core factors in pursuit of so called excellence.

Existence of social cohesion among groups of people with different incomes, cultures, ages, and professions who live in a city is also essential in a sustainable urban system. Our cities should aim to create such a social cohesion where citizens and the government share a vision of a society based on social justice, the primacy of the rule of law, and solidarity.

The number of public and private hospitals and health centers, employment rate and the ratio of women who work in public administration – all indicate liveability or otherwise of the city and therefore, city administrators should direct their efforts to achieve the highest standards on these parameters.

Happiness should be considered as a suitable measure of social progress and should become a goal of government policies. People usually assert they are happy if they have a stable job and are healthy and if there is a more homogeneous distribution of wealth within the city where they live.

It’s high time that our city planners eschew short-termism and broaden their field of view and also turn to innovation more frequently to improve the efficiency and sustainability of their services. Also, they should promote communication and ensure that the public and businesses are involved in their projects.

Each city, unique and unrepeatable, has its own needs and opportunities, so it must design its own plan, set its priorities, and be flexible enough to adapt to changes. So we need to give up ‘one size suits all’ mind-set.

It may be much easier to become third largest economy in the world than to make our cities really liveable. But what’s the  use of becoming third largest economy in the world if cities (where majority of the population is going to live in future, are not liveable.

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