Smart as (un)democratic? The making of a smart city imaginary in Kolkata, India

Ghosh, Bipashyee and Arora, Saurabh (2021) Smart as (un)democratic? The making of a smart city imaginary in Kolkata, India. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space. pp. 1-21. ISSN 2399-6544

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‘Smart’ imaginaries have been enthusiastically embraced by urban planners and policymakers around the world. Indians are no exception. Between 2015–2018, following national government guidelines to use participatory and inclusive processes, many cities developed proposals for a smart city challenge. Successful proposals received financial and technical support from the national government. We examine the making of the smart city proposal submitted by New Town Kolkata (NTK). We ask how (un)democratic was the making of the proposal, along three aspects: distributive, participatory, and responsive. Based on an analysis of documents and interviews with policymakers and citizens, we find that NTK’s smart city imaginary largely failed to be distributive. It rarely accounted for the specific needs of poorer and vulnerable citizens. City officials invested considerable effort in using participatory techniques, but citizen participation was tightly controlled through top-down design and practice of the techniques. The latter often facilitated one-way flow of information from the city administration to the citizens. The proposal was responsive to some citizens’ voices, but only those belonging to the more affluent classes. A messy diversity of citizens’ voices was thus closed down, as the city officials filtered and cherry-picked citizens’ voices that were well-aligned with the official technocratic vision of ‘global’ smart urbanism. The paper shows how democracy can be put in the service of technocracy, within a rhetoric of citizen participation and social inclusion that embodies smart urbanism.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Politics of participation, smart cities, inclusiveness, democracy, sustainability, sociotechnical imaginary, technocracy
Schools and Departments: University of Sussex Business School > SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit
SWORD Depositor: Mx Elements Account
Depositing User: Mx Elements Account
Date Deposited: 09 Aug 2021 07:38
Last Modified: 09 Aug 2021 09:00

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