Learning from Small Cities

Learning from Small Cities: Governing imagined futures and the dynamics of change in India’s smart urban age.

Dr Ayona Datta‘s ESRC Urban Transformations research bid for Newton funds to conduct research on smart cities in India has been successful.

This means that for the next two years Ayona Datta will be leading a major research project with UK and Indian academics (Dr Melissa Butcher, Dr Sophie Hadfield-Hill, Prof. Sanjay Srivastava and Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay) and a number of societal partners in India. The project aims to learn from the dynamics of changes in India’s small cities as they transform into the smart cities that will herald India’s urban future.

In India most of the cities chosen for transformation under its 100 smart cities flagship programme are ‘small’ with less than 1 million population. But there is increased uncertainty about how these small cities will be able to adapt to smart city technologies and infrastructures given their continued challenges of data scarcity, broken, incomplete or improvised infrastructures.

There is much to learn from the dynamics of change of these small cities as they are the test-beds of state experiments with smart urban futures.

The main objectives of the project are:

1. To develop the fields of smart urbanism and urban futures by learning from small cities as they experience far reaching transformations through smart technologies and infrastructures in India.
2. To critically learn from how State, urban municipalities and citizens of small cities living through rapid and radical urban transformations imagine and realise new ‘smart’ urban futures.
3. To produce a detailed evidence base and learn from innovative practices within the three cities that can be communicated widely to policy-makers, practitioners, municipal authorities, civil society organisations and community groups.
4. To build research capacity on smart cities and urban futures in India and elsewhere.
5. To develop evidence based policy interventions on smart cities and urban futures in India and elsewhere.

The two-year project will produce major policy and research directions that aim to deliver the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 ‘Sustainable cities and communities’ and is directly relevant to the goals of UN-Habitat and New Urban Agenda (NUA).

The project aims to deliver a variety of outputs to contribute to both academic and policy makers’ understanding of actually existing smart cities, including animated info-graphics, policy briefings, and a public exhibition and catalogue to maximise the impact of the research.

A key output will be a ‘smart city asset toolkit’ that will enable communities to speak back to, and inform, smart city planners and policy makers. The work will be done with support from societal partners and local communities to translate the findings into local language pamphlets that make them accessible to lay audiences.

The team will take an interdisciplinary approach from urban, social and cultural geography, as well as sociology and geo-informatics to learn from three small cities in India: Shimla, Jalandhar and Nashik.

In each of these cities the project team will undertake analysis of imagined urban futures through longitudinal mapping, crowd-sourced digital and community asset mapping and interviews with stakeholders and beneficiaries of smart city projects.

The research project will run from 2018-2020.

This article was originally published on Dr Ayona Datta’s blog, available here.


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