Smart Cities. Dumb Citizens.
It has been two years since the Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off the Smart Cities mission- to have 100 smart cities in India by the year 2022, and yesterday he launched an array of proposals in Pune. The mission seems to be slowly but surely picking up some momentum, but it will be some time before we see anything substantial in the way of noticeable changes- because India.
We are making progress by implementing programs like Smart Cities but are we, as people really ready for it?
Do we even deserve smart cities?
While the use of a set of advanced information and communication technologies (ICT), including broadband networks, wireless sensors, Internet of Things, Big Data, cloud services, mobile devices and apps, to make the city function in a more efficient way is fine, we first need to get the most basic concept right- engaging the citizens and making them aware.
Smart cities need as much technology as they need civic effort. Both complement each other, and we cannot have the smart cities function with just one of them in place. Unfortunately, if we look around, we find plenty of evidence suggesting that we are just not ready yet to adopt such a solution.
We cry for cleaner public spaces but showcase our hypocrisy to the world by maintaining our homes like biotech labs, while not even sparing a second thought before throwing that piece of garbage on the road. We complain about the water-cuts and power-cuts without ever considering or even correcting our incessant overuse of both the precious resources.
Waste segregation is absent. Waste treatment is minimal or non-existent. None of this helps build a city with smarter healthcare and public waste management systems. After throwing a plastic bag in the gutter, you simply cannot complain about water-logging when the next heavy shower inundates the city because you are a part of the problem.
We jump traffic signals like they are enemies trying to prevent us from reaching our destination. We park cars on the roadside, consuming half the lanes, and then rant about how the roads are not wide enough. Boarding and getting off the trains isn't much different either when it comes to being dumb. One has to pretty much be a Spartan if one has to survive a local train commute. This kills a plan for a more advanced traffic and transport management solution right in its nascent stage.
A smart city will only be smart when its citizens are smart and use the technology to make not only theirs but everybody else's lives better. Narendra Modi did his bit by starting the Smart Cities campaign, but for it to have a profoundly noticeable effect, we as citizens need to take inspiration from cities like Melbourne and Berlin, and give this campaign our little bit, so that we complement the government's efforts.
Switch off the TV when nobody's watching, fix that leaking tap, spare the walls from your beautiful Paan paintings, don't drive like your tail's caught fire, and yes, don't be horn-y!
Let us not be dumb citizens. Let us be citizens of the kind of city we aspire to be!