Exploring smart city interventions in India

Dr Sophie Hadfield-Hill from the University of Birmingham’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences is one of several academics to have joined a major research project aimed at exploring urbanisation in India.

Dr Hadfield-Hill was recently awarded a major grant from the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Urban Transformations programme to fund a two-year research programme.

In collaboration with the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), the ESRC has funded a series of projects to explore urban transformation in India.  The project that Dr Hadfield-Hill has embarked on is examining the challenges and opportunities that small cities face in their quest to become ‘smart.’

Dr Hadfield-Hill is working in collaboration with Dr Ayona Datta from Kings College London, Dr Melissa Butcher from Birkbeck, University of London, Professor Sanjay Srivastava from the  Institute of Economic Growth (Delhi) and Dr Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research.

“I’m delighted to have received this funding. We’re an interdisciplinary team from urban, social and cultural geography, sociology and geo-informatics and I’m excited to see the research potential of this collaboration,” said Dr Hadfield-Hill.

“This is a really important project. To date, research on ‘smart cities’ has focused on the larger cities, but a key question for us is how residents of small cities live with the smart infrastructures and plans imagined and funded by the state.

“As a team, we want to contribute to academics’ and policy-makers’ understanding of the dynamics of smart city interventions – to offer a critical perspective on the smart urban age from the perspective of residents.”

Most of the cities selected for transformation in India under its 100 smart cities flagship programme are ‘small’ with a population of less than 1 million. However, there is increased uncertainty about how these areas can adapt to smart city technologies and infrastructures against the backdrop of on-going challenges, which range from data scarcity, to broken, incomplete and improvised infrastructures.

More specifically, the current project will focus on three small cities - Shimla, Jalandhar and Nashik – and the changes they experience as they transform into smart cities. The project team will spend time in each of the three cities where they will analyse imagined urban futures through longitudinal mapping, crowdsource digital and community asset mapping and interview stakeholders and beneficiaries of smart city projects.

It is hoped that the research will uncover widespread key learnings about India’s move towards achieving an urban future. Ultimately, it is anticipated the project will:

  • 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
  • Establish key learnings from current environments – by focusing on how state, urban municipalities and citizens of small cities living through rapid and radical urban transformations imagine and realise new ‘smart’ urban futures
  • Produce a detailed evidence base and learn from innovative practices - that can be communicated to policy-makers, practitioners, municipal authorities, civil society organisations and community groups
  • Build research capacity and evidence-based policy interventions on smart cities – as well as urban futures in India and elsewhere

For more information about the project and to see how Dr Hadfield-Hill and her fellow academics’ work is progressing follow @UOB_India and @HadfieldHill ‏and connect with uob_india on LinkedIn.