Book review - Sustainable Smart Cities in India: Challenges and Future Perspectives

Edited by Poonam Sharma & Swati Rajput and reviewed by Federico Cugurullo

3 Oct 2018, 11:13 a.m.
Federico Cugurullo

Sustainable Smart Cities in India cover

Book review - Sustainable Smart Cities in India: Challenges and Future Perspectives

Edited by Poonam Sharma & Swati Rajput and reviewed by Federico Cugurullo

Berlin: Springer International Publishing, 2017; 827 pp.: 978-3-319-47145, €202.29 (ebk), 978-3-319-47144-0,€249.99 (hbk)


Today, the era of smart urbanism is a reality which many cities from around the world are facing. However, despite the now countless examples of smart-city projects, across different geographical spaces, there is still limited empirical research on how smart-city initiatives operate on the ground and, more generally, on what smart urbanism actually is. Even though smart-city developers and advocates tend to draw upon a fairly homogeneous ideology largely based on an adamant faith in technological innovation, when it comes to existing smart-city initiatives, geography matters (Cugurullo, 2018). Local politics, morphologies, cultures and economies, among many other geographically specific factors, can shape international models of city-making with unique and often unpredictable outcomes, and the smart city is no exception. Sustainable Smart Cities in India: Challenges and Future Perspectivesresonates with recent academic concerns on the materiality, impact and sustainability of what are promoted as, but not necessarily are, smart cities. Through a long journey of 47 chapters, this empirically rich edited collection provides an extensive account of the many incarnations of the smart-city ideal across India.

In terms of literature, the book is positioned within a recent strand in urban and geographical studies interested in how different loci shape the understanding and, above all, the practice of smart urbanism (Karvonen et al., 2018). More specifically, Sustainable Smart Cities in India seeks to unpack the nature of Indian smart-city initiatives with the aim of exploring both their potential in terms of sustainability, but also the socio-environmental problems that they risk (re)producing. As noted by several scholars, smart and sustainable are not necessarily synonyms and, therefore, cannot be used as interchangeable terms (Cugurullo, 2017Martin et al., 2018Yigitcanlar and Kamruzzaman, 2018). Only in-depth empirical research can show whether smart-city agendas have the capacity to drive positive socio-environmental changes, or if what we are seeing is an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ situation in which traditional and, ultimately, unsustainable capitalistic logics of economic growth continue to dictate urban growth (see, for instance, Grossi and Pianezzi, 2017).

Following this philosophy of research, this book tackles Indian smart urbanism in five steps: Smart Cities Development Potentials and Challenges (Part I), Smart City Development and Role of ICT, Remote Sensing and Geographical Information System (Part II), Environment, Energy, Disaster Management and Sustainable Development of Cities (Part III), Multifarious Management for Smart Cities (Part IV) and Summary (Part V). The range of the topics that the edited collection explores is noteworthy and so is the geographical scale of their analysis. Each empirical chapter has a specific focus and a distinctive case study and, ultimately, the mosaic that the 88 contributors have put together gives a clear picture of the many human and non-human facets of smart interventions in India. This achievement is also enhanced by the breadth of the several disciplines involved, ranging from geography to economics and from urban planning to chemistry, which form a rare, and much needed, pool of diverse methodologies.

However, while the empirics are the forte of this edited collection, the volume lacks in terms of theoretical underpinnings and theoretical contribution. Although the advancement of new theories of smart urbanism was not one of the aims of the editors, the volume would have benefited a lot from the theoretical insights of scholars working in the field of critical urbanism. Sustainable Smart Cities in Indiarefers a lot to classical urban theory a la Munford, which cannot fully capture, because of its age, the mechanics of the latest urban trends. The recent work of Ayona Datta on smart urbanism in India, for example, would have offered a precious and fresh critical lens through which to examine some of the key social tensions that undermine Indian smart-city initiatives. Moreover, a stronger theoretical framework on the meaning and practice of urban sustainability would have avoided the inclusion of projects such as Masdar City (United Arab Emirates) and Dongtan (China), which are renowned in the literature for their failures rather than for their successes, among the examples of sustainable urbanism that Indian cities can learn from (Caprotti, 2016Chang, 2017Cugurullo, 2016).

Overall, this large volume represents one of the few cases of empirical multidisciplinary research on the geography of smart urbanism. As such, it is a very precious tool for whoever wants to explore the multifaceted incarnations of the smart-city ideal across the globe. Although based mostly on work carried out in the Indian subcontinent, Sustainable Smart Cities in India can be a compass which academics, practitioners and students can use to traverse the vast constellation of alleged smart cities, and find out if the answer to some of the world’s sustainability issues lies in one of them.


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