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Make cities responsive

Smart cities are the future of our urbanisation as they bring in much needed efficiency in managing and operating the public assets. They can bring about much needed efficiency in water management, mobility management, energy grid management leading to savings in water consumption, lesser traffic congestion and savings in power consumption. But making cities smarter alone cannot guarantee people’s happiness and urban planners need to think beyond that. Smart city cannot be an end in itself but a means to achieve (one of the means to achieve) greater happiness. Remember happy and satisfied citizens are the greatest assets of the nation. A technology-led urban utopia despite providing (or capable of providing) solution to many urban problems like traffic congestion and crime, we need to look beyond smart cities. Therefore, the ultimate goal of the urban planning must be to make it a responsive city – a city where the citizens are the center of action rather than just center of attention. In other words, cities can be made responsive by taking them back to the citizens.

Smart cities generate large amount of data from fixed or centrally controlled sensors. It is often said that citizens are ‘wired’ in a smart city while the activists complain, citizens are ‘chained.’ However, ideally instead of using data that are centrally collected and stored, citizens should be allowed to place on platforms the information which they want to share. Through this transformation citizen’s responsibility becomes a foundation of a Responsive City. Thus, cities evolve from being smart to being responsive. A responsive city will be in a better position to grow and adapt to changing needs and circumstances in ways that are environmentally sustainable and in the interests of all residents.

More emphasis need to be given to interpretation than collection of data and equal importance to cyber and civil infrastructure. Modelling should aim at bringing down uncertainty, probabilities and identifying unknown dependencies. Urban planners need to start building correlations and causations, creating models to predict and test human behavior, and gaining insights into why things happened and how change might be affected.

Of course, to build cities which are responsive, foundation will be smart cities and the experience which one gains in building smart cities. We need to bring together expertise in urban design and planning, computer science, engineering, behavioural science and transport planning, to analyse distinctive forms and quantities of data relevant to the flows and fabric of future cities. We have to do it on an urgent basis as it is estimated that more than half of India’s population will live in cities in next three decades.

Transparency will be and should be at the core of the responsive city. There should be timely responses from the operational to the strategic level. For this to happen we should explore new possibilities for interaction among people, communities and their physical environments.

Whether a city is smarter or responsive will be of no use unless it brings substantial change in user perspective. If we have CCTVs installed all over the places but crime rates remain high, citizens may become cynical about the changes and their trust and faith in the administration may dilute and over a long period of time it may turn into anger. So, the administration need to tread cautiously and should always believe that citizen is the king and his comfort and happiness is the ultimate goal of any administration.

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