Search site

School of Geography

IRCA Project ‘Smart Cities and Social Justice’ University of Leeds (UK) University of Cape Town (South Africa) with Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (India)

Collaborators: Ayona Datta (PI), Nancy Odendaal and Rutul Joshi

Project timeline: April 2015- Sept 2016

This international collaboration will build on the strong foundations established through existing partnerships under the WUN framework (UoL and University of Cape Town) and those proposed through this project (between UoL and Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad). It brings together leading urban justice researchers (Datta, Odendaal) and planner (Joshi) working in the rapidly growing smart city sectors in India and South Africa. The collaboration will be funded over an 18 month period and will seek to fulfill the following objectives:

  1. Build current state of knowledge on smart cities in India and South Africa to identify common threads and divergences in definitions and typologies.
  2. Determine the parameters of the smart city trend in the two countries and their relation to other global urbanization trends.
  3. Conduct semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders involved in two smart cities in India and South Africa.
  4. Engage in knowledge exchange through partner meetings and site visits to smart cities in India and South Africa, two scoping workshops and an end of project 3-day workshop in Leeds.
  5. Strengthen links between and build capacity of research partners in order to develop a research programme on smart cities and social justice in the global south.

The collaboration will commence with two scoping workshops in Ahmedabad and South Africa respectively where all project partners will come together to agree project activities, aims and objectives before they start their regional activities. The collaboration will culminate with a 3-day workshop on ‘smart cities and social justice’ in Leeds at the end of 18 months.

1st Workshop: “Smart cities: Urban Utopias or the Future of Cities?”

8th May, 2015 (Friday) – 9.30 am to 3 pm

Venue: GIDC Bhavan, Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad

 ‘Smart cities’ have now proliferated the discourses and practices of urban development and planning in the global south and particularly in India. In India, the newly elected pro-growth government is promising 100 new smart cities to address a projected 8% rise in urban population by 2050 (as per the 2010 McKinsey report). The political promise of ‘100 new smart cities’ and images of GIFT and Dholera city are not only shaping the urban policy landscape nationally but also the imagination of the future of cities in India.

From connected homes to fibre-optic communication systems, zero-energy buildings to community waste management systems, traffic regulation to e-governance, a new networked urbanism driven by the logics of big data has taken hold across the urban planning functions. Promoting ubiquitous networking in all aspects of urban life, smart cities are simultaneously hailed as the progressive future of cities by its proponents and critiqued by social justice scholars as a menacing form of centralized control and surveillance of ordinary citizens. Is thinking about ‘Smart Cities’ also about thinking of ‘cities out of the box’?  Will the ‘Smart cities’ agenda outshine more basic needs of the Indian cities – toilets, clean water, public transport and shelter security. It is one thing, after all, to reinforce the basic infrastructures that undergird the quality of urban life everywhere; quite another to propose saddling India’s cities with expensive, untested technology at a time when reliable access to electricity, clean drinking water or safe sanitary facilities and public transport remain beyond reach for too many people.

The proposed workshop seeks to engage in this timely debate about ‘Smart cities’ in Indian context and beyond. The planning professionals, academicians, researchers and civil society activists will put their minds together to understand and explore the nuances of the ‘Smart cities’ discourse.


9.30-10.00 – Registration of participants and Tea/Coffee

10.00-11.15     Session 1 (Plenary)

10.00-10.10     Welcome address – Dr Renu Desai, Co-ordinator, CUE

10.10-10.30     Dr Ayona Datta (UoL) introducing aims/outcomes of the Collaboration

10.30-11.15     Plenary Talk (Dr Janaki Nair, CHS, JNU)

11.15-11.30     Tea/coffee

11.30-12.30     Session 2

Session 2: Smart cities: Urban utopias or the future of cities?

Speakers (15 mins each) - Ayona Datta + Umesh Shrupalli + Discussant: Biswaroop das + 15 mins of discussion

12.30- 13.30 LUNCH

13.30-14.30     Session 3

Session 3: Smart cities: Planning, policy and governance

Speakers (15 mins each) - Nancy Odendaal (via weblink) + Sejal Patel + Discussant: A. Srivathsan + 15 mins of discussion

14.30-15.00     ROUNDTABLE discussion (with Tea/coffee)

Brainstorming research ideas and questions with audience. Moderator:  Rutul Joshi

15.00-15.10     Concluding comments and Vote of Thanks – Rutul Joshi

(Note: This is a tentative schedule. There might be changes as per the availability of various speakers)