Learning from small cities

I am very pleased to announce that our ESRC Urban Transformations research bid for  Newton funds to conduct research on smart cities in India has been successful. This develops my continued interest in understanding new and emergent forms of urbanism and citizenships shaping the global south. I explored this first in 2013 in a mini-documentary titled ‘City Forgotten‘ that was funded by UK-India Education and Research Initiative. In 2014, I also organised (with Prof. Abdul Shaban) a double session on ‘Learning from small cities’ in the Royal Geographical Society annual meeting.

For the next two years I 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.

Governing imagined futures and the dynamics of change in India’s smart urban age.

In India most of the cities chosen for transformation under its 100 smart cities flagship programme are ‘small’ with less than 1million 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. We wanted to focus on these cities since there is much to learn from their dynamics of change as they are the test-beds of state experiments with smart urban futures.

Our 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. 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 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.

Expected Impacts

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. We will also work with societal partners and local communities to translate the findings into local language pamphlets that make them accessible to lay audiences.

The research project will run from 2018-2020. Dedicated project website coming soon.


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