Govt needs to address the digital divide and overcome the trust deficit

Visakhapatnam, September 15:  

As the government dreams of building 100 smart cities, it parallely needs to enhance local research capabilities, overcome trust deficit, and improve access to technology in order to prevent an increase in social inequality, experts believe.

Philip Harrison, South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning, Wits University, Johanesburg, said, “There are risks that must be addressed. Smart cities may actually increase social inequality, especially given the existing digital divide. South Africa too has significant economic inequality. Cities, hence, need to invest heavily in increasing access to technology. Smart cities could result in destructive forms of inter-city competition.”

Stressing on the need to develop local research capabilities, Doutor Alvaro de Oliveira, President, Human Smart Cities Network, Portugal, said that smart cities are an opportunity to create an innovation ecosystem.

“So cities should not simply buy expensive technology from other countries and deploy it in their city. Local research is essential to sustain smart cities. The government must drive innovation to create an urban living laboratory and ensure a strong relationship between the universities and municipalities,” Oliveira added.

Research and capacity development is a crucial part of creating smart cities in the Indian perspective too, said Pradipta Banerji, Director, IIT Roorkee.

“We need to abandon the modernist approach to urban development...focus on a connected smart region rather than a smart city. We also need to overcome the trust deficit in the quality of services that exists among residents who are hesistant to pay user charges. For example, in Dharamsala, many residents have shut their smart meters. Everybody is too focussed on the technology aspect of smart cities mission,” Banerji told BusinessLine at the sidelines of the 3rd BRICS Urbanisation Forum here.

Echoing this sentiment, Harrison said that technology may become an end in itself rather than a means to an end, resulting in smart cities where governance was more technocratic and less responsive. “Moreover, investment in technology may not be supported by adequate infrastructure in soft infrastructure – skills, organisational capacity etc,” he added.