„What is a Smart City?“
The concept of „Smart City“ from a global perspective

Symposium on 13th November 2014 in Stadtlabor:
Within the framework of the project “Smart Cities for India” we conducted a symposium at the Stadtlabor on the 13th of November, 2014. It was an in-depth discussion about the elusive concept of smart cities with various experts from Austria and India. The aim was to weave in its key findings in the publication which includes projects and essays generated mainly by students (currently in the making). The event was very well attended with lively discussion. It was entirely video-recorded.

„What is a Smart City?“ <br>The concept of „Smart City“ from a global perspective

In the first session, students designed a workshop called “Irritating Smart City”. In the first part, students and members of the audience tried to figure out the images that people associate with smart cities. What is the popular understanding of a smart city? They depicted images of smartness through collages and assemblages around themes such as mobility, housing etc. The depictions showed that there were both negative and positive images – the negative, however, outweighed the positive. In the second part, they staged a theatre with role playing: a mayor of an Indian city, an investor, an urban planner, a sociologist, critical citizens etc. debated about the construction of a smart city. The social practice of planning was humourously explicated.
In the second session, the invited speakers threw light on the subject from a wide variety of angles. Elke Rauth (dĂ©rive, Vienna) opened with a very critical view of smart cities raising questions about privacy and the commercial interest of large multinational companies. She ended by showing bottom-up projects like USHAHIDI, which reflect a more needs-based and community-based technological approach than a solely profit-based one as proposed by large companies. Christian Peer (ISRA, VUT) spoke about how concepts like ‘smart city’ travel around the globe experiencing big or small shifts of meaning during their curious journeys. Suhel Khan (DCM of the Indian Embassy) showed us that the ground reality of poverty and exclusion of an overriding part of the Indian population challenges us to question what smartness is in the Indian context. He also said that expropriation of land, which is necessary to build new cities, is becoming more and more difficult. He also said that issues around local governance have to be addressed in the smart city discourse. Stefan Nastic (Infosys, VUT) spoke about smart infrastructure for cities – the core element of the smart city. He is involved in a project that will ‘make Dubai smart’ – an example which epitomizes the smart city: ‘efficient, well controlled and functional’. Michael Badic (GeoPulse Linz, ARS Electronica) drew an entirely different picture of the smart city. He asked: how will an ‘artistic’ smart city look like? With GeoPulse Linz he created an interactive, three-dimensional experiential space designed to depict complex information about cities. It is an educative tool that playfully invites citizens to explore local and global processes. Stefan Gara (ETA) started by a project he is doing in Kenya – a project that responds to the real needs of people. Again, a different understanding of the smart city. Having being one of the initiators, Mr. Gara also spoke about the multi-stakeholder process that led to the Smart City Framework Strategy of Vienna. One objective of creating this comprehensive strategy was actually to bring together all the city administrative institutions. Naresh Fernandes (Journalist, Time Out Mumbai) was switched in via a perfect Skype connection from Mumbai. The sharp witted urbanite from Mumbai was exceedingly critical about the present smart city rhetoric in India calling it bluntly a ‘failed’ idea. Finally Sarah Habersack (GIZ, Delhi) rounded up the event with an in-depth analysis of the ‘ground reality’ of the urban situation in India, its critical issues and possible solutions. We visited Sarah on our excursion to India last February in New Delhi. Her uncompromising exposure the urban reality but also her love for India has made her an invaluable partner in our project.

India in the mean time a made another big step forward. In January 2015, a major new national program called “Make in India” was presented to the international community. It is designed to transform India into a global manufacturing hub. This new program is inextricably connected with last year’s program of creating “100 Smart Cities for India” (as reported in the future.lab magazine). India has truly woken up to urban planning in a big way. Never in the country’s history, has urban planning been so en vogue as it is now!