Thursday, May 14, 2015

Is India's 100 smart cities project a recipe for social apartheid?

In architectural renderings, Gujarat International Financial Tec-City resembles a thicket of glassy blue skyscrapers soaring above the Sabarmati River in Gandhinagar, capital of the western Indian state of Gujarat. Its “signature towers” include the Diamond, a 410-metre spire resembling an icy stalagmite, and the 362m Gateway Towers, a bendy, sinuous version of Rem Koolhaas’s CCTV headquarters in Beijing.

By 2021, the creators of Gift City, as it is commonly known, promise to surround these towers with world-class infrastructure which will provide residents with round-the-clock power and water, a “district-cooling system” that sluices chilled water through buildings, and an automatic garbage disposal system sending excrement hurtling through sewage pipes at 90kph – “faster than most Indian trains”, as the journalist Manu Joseph dryly observed.

The beating heart – or rather, robot brain – of Gift City is its “Command and Control Centre”, which keeps traffic moving smoothly and monitors every building through a network of CCTVs. In a country where more than 300 million people live without electricity, and twice as many don’t have access to toilets, Gift City’s towers sound like hypertrophic castles in the sky. But they are an essential part of the Indian government’s urban vision, one that it wants to see replicated a hundred times across the country. Recently, the Indian cabinet green-lit a £10 billion scheme that will be divided equally between building 100 smart cities, and rejuvenating another 500 cities and towns over the next five years.

Yet many experts and planners fear that such “insta-cities”, if they are made, will prove dystopic and inequitable. Some even hint that smart cities may turn into social apartheid cities, governed by powerful corporate entities that could override local laws and governments to “keep out” the poor. Full story...

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