Smart City Squabbling

From the report in The Times of India, “Mayor given the short shrift at SPV meeting” (Mar. 29, 2016), it seems the Cochin Smart Mission Ltd. (CSML) is low on planning, but high on squabbling.

“The meeting which concluded without taking any major decisions also discussed the memorandum and articles of association, recruiting key managerial personnel in urban planning, engineering, urban transport/mobility, energy and environment, urban finance, capacity building and social development, IT and e-governance, and general administration.”

The report increases the troubling concerns about the project. Smart City Mission is for the existing city, and not creating a new city. So what is the reason to build up an entire city organization? Many of these functions must be existing, or should be existing within the current city organizations. Duplicating these functions for Smart City Mission is likely to create conflicts with existing staff and new staff, limiting the potential that could be achieved. Incorporating Smart City Mission into the existing city organizations will help revive and increase their effectiveness and efficiency, which itself will generate many benefits and advantages. And may help achieve breakthrough results with the Smart City Mission project. Kochi [2] has the geographical advantages for being a world class economic center. It would be a shame if the opportunity presented by the Smart City Mission is squabbled away.

Instead of squabbling, Smart City Mission project is an opportunity to institutionalize regional economic development capability using modern metro development methodologies. For example, Robert Weissbourd, President, RW Ventures, LLC, and Mark Muro, Senior Fellow and Policy Director at Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution, describes a new approach to planning for economic development and growth in “Metropolitan Business Plans.” According to them:

Metropolitan business planning adapts the discipline of private-sector business planning to the task of revitalizing regional development.

Such planning provides a framework through which regional business, civic, and government leaders can rigorously analyze the market position of their region; identify strategies by which to capitalize on their unique assets; specify catalytic products, policies, and interventions; and establish detailed operational and financial plans.

These plans can then, in turn, be used to restructure federal, state, and philanthropic engagement in ways that invert the current top-down, highly siloed, and often ineffective approach to cities and metropolitan areas while bringing new efficiency to development activity.

Also clear from the report is a leadership deficit for the Smart City Mission. There was hardly any discussion of the vision for the Rs 2000-crore ($300m) Smart City Mission project. What the project hopes to achieve? How it will change Kochi? Smart City Mission leadership must be thinking how to use the Smart City Mission project to transform Kochi into a powerful center for economic activity.

Without thinking along these lines, most that can be achieved from the Smart City Mission project are some construction activities resulting in buildings and technology pockets without creating an institutionalized economic development capability in Kochi as a world-class metro region. A compelling vision also will help unify the existing staff, new staff and residents of the city behind the project and provide cohesion to the implementation team and effort. Without such leadership, there will be increasing squabbles, wasted resources and effort, along with a lost opportunity.

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