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A Cautionary Tale from India’ s Smart City Program

India is proceeding with its famous Smart Cities Mission, the $7.5 billion initiative to create 100 citizen-friendly and sustainable smart cities across the country by 2020. This ambitious initiative is encountering several difficulties, however, and one case, Lavasa, hailed as India’ s first Smart City, offers a cautionary tale.

Lavasa is a private Smart City, built in the hills a four hour drive away from the congested mega-city of Mumbai, modeled after the colorful Italian seaside town of Portofino. Lavasa was designed to have facilities for about 250,000 people to live, learn, work and play in. When the first inhabitants moved in things were looking optimistic and impressive, but now, there is litter everywhere, buildings are half done and abandoned, roads are potholed, and there are break-ins because few security staff are left.

Indian Smart City experts attribute the difficulties of Lavasa to several factors, including the inefficiency of the federal program, which does not address structural issues such as poor design, and ignores the needs of low-income and marginalized groups. In addition, although the Smart Cities Mission is good and necessary, it has to be supplemented by other efforts to improve urban centers.

Purpose-built cities often end up as glorified gated communities. A city must grow organically, with a mix of people and purposes. Smart Cities are not just about technology; they’ re about a better quality of life, and this should not just be a privilege for a small number of people. Most cities in India’ s Smart Cities Mission are only upgrading small areas totaling an average of less than 5% of the city’ s total area. As areas are upgraded in each city, they create “islands of excellence’ that need to be scaled up extensively so everyone can benefit, or at least that is the theory. In practice, smart city initiatives are encountering several problems, and Lavasa’ s deterioration as money dried up offers a cautionary tale about how such ambitious new Smart City projects need diligent planning, including fixed targets and clear-cut delivery and assessment plans.

The original article can be found on Eco-Business.