Tuesday, October 30, 2018

My City My Responsibility - Experiences from Smart cities of Tamil Nadu

Mandatory pics with Sheila and Ajita
Mandatory pics with Myron and Ajita

Dear All, 

Last week I attended two workshops in Tamil Nadu - one on People's agenda for Smart Salem and another on People's agenda for Smart Madurai, organized by SCINDeA, INECC and LAYA Resource Centre. SCINDeA stands for South Central India Network for Development Alternatives and is a network of voluntary organisations that promotes sustainable development through people's participation. Their work areas are parts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. SCINDeA was crucially involved in arranging these workshops for the people of Salem and Madurai, through active inputs from INECC and LAYA.

Since I am working on developing a roadmap for Sustainably Smart Pune by 2030, I had the opportunity to present our study to the citizens of both the cities. Dr. Priyadarshini Karve who is spearheading this study believes that the outcomes of our study may or may not help Pune to develop as a Sustainably Smart city, though it will definitely be instrumental in making other cities coming behind us develop in a Sustainably Smart manner. This opportunity actually created a platform for the same. 

Dr. Sheila B, VC Dr. Kolandaivel and Mr Kamraj
addressing the group
The first workshop was held in Salem city, the crowd represented academicians, NGO representatives, bureaucrats, trade association members and citizens of Salem. The city executive engineer Mr. Kamraj presented the smart city plan for Salem. The plan stressed on developing physical infrastructure in the form of flyovers, parking provisions, road development and ICT like setting up E-toilets and kiosks etc. According to a SWOT analysis of the city, this city faces threats like congestion, poor urban services and heavily polluted river similar to what we are facing in Pune. However their smart city plan did not really focus on improving these services. It rather seemed to be focused on creating additional inefficient and fancy structures which will eventually widen the socioeconomic inequity in the city. The plan was immediately objected by the citizens and members of various city-based associations. The critics pointed to the inconsiderate approach towards weaker sections of the society. I presented our study where we look at development through three lenses i.e socio economic inequity, local environmental impacts and climate change aspects like carbon footprint and climate vulnerability. The approach was appreciated by all the people sitting in the hall, however the sad part was that the city engineer had left by then. Nevertheless, we wanted to inform the citizens on sustainable urban development approaches and that was very well achieved. It is now hoped that the citizens will take up the issue at the municipal level, armed with all the knowledge inputs gained from the meeting!  

Smart Salem Group Photo
Dr. G.Balaji addressing the citizens
The second workshop was held in Madurai. It was a pleasant surprise to know that a city conservation architect Dr. G. Balaji was working in collaboration with the city engineer to develop the smart city plan. His ideas very well resonated with our approach on Sustainably Smart planning. Though the smart city plan of Madurai focused on improving physical infrastructure around famous heritage structure Meenakshi Amman Temple and suburbs, the core issues in the city like waste management and insufficient water supply still seemed to be neglected. However, Dr. G.Balaji pointed out that the scope of the smart city mission lies in developing physical infrastructure only. With the overemphasis on infrastructure, critical aspects like climate change vulnerability, local environmental impacts and socioeconomic inequity are being gravely ignored. On presenting our study (though Dr. G. Balaji had left by then), active members of the society, academicians, students, consultants, bureaucrats and members from various different organizations appreciated our work and agreed with our approach and the possibilities of using this approach to address shortcomings in the smart city plan. How much will it really impact is an open question, but we have certainly ignited the spirit of sustainability in the minds of the people and I am really glad about it. 

Smart Madurai Group Photo

Citizens raising their voice for the city
Meanwhile, Myron Mendes from INECC who stressed upon INECC's slogan People's Voices in Policy Choices conducted an activity where he distributed hand shaped cards to the audience where each person had to write about 'what they as the citizens of the city would do to make their city Sustainably smart'. They had to put these hand prints on the wall sized poster that showcased the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with focus on SDG 11 i.e. making cities Sustainable.  

Ajita Tiwari who is the national facilitator for INECC summed up the learnings from both the workshops as to how people's perspective is important in any development in the city. 

I would like to thank and congratulate Dr. Sheila Benjamin from SCINDeA and her efficient team for organizing these workshops successfully. We now hope that the conversations triggered off by the events will continue in the two cities, and impact their individual development trajectories in a positive way. 

Pournima Agarkar. 

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