Interconnectedness, economic geography essential for smart cities

United Kingdom's minister of state for universities, science and cities Gregory Clark shared his experience of working on local city governance and decentralisation

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Pratap Vikram Singh | November 15, 2014



While Indian government is working on smart cities scheme, it could prioritise on interconnectedness between and within cities and have governance arrangements which may focus on true economic geography of cities, instead of administrative boundaries.

This is what Gregory Clark, minister of state for universities, science and cities, United Kingdom government suggested on Indian government's plan to build 100 smart cities.   

“I think the focus should be on connection between and within cities,” Clark said, while speaking on the sidelines of Urban Age conference organised by London School of Economics and Deutsche Bank on Friday. Cities should have reliable and speedy transport connectivity.

Besides that, it is important "to make sure that administrative arrangement reflects the true economic geography." "That has been our experience in the UK — having the governance arrangement suit the economic geography."

Environmental sustainability is another key element which should be kept in mind while making smart cities, he added.  

While addressing the inaugural address at the conference titled 'Governing urban futures', Clark shared the learning he had while working on local government and decentralisation.

First is to recognise the differences between cities and unique character of each city. "No two cities are alike. Liverpool and Manchester (in the UK) are just 35 miles apart. They have different industries, skill set, politics. Cities could prosper when the unique character and differences could emerge and when policies could be adjusted,” he said. Some might have transportation as an overriding barrier preventing it from achieving maximum potential, yet some might face challenges in skill development, he said.

Second is to respect the past of a city but not imprisoned by it. The government must ensure that it preserves the best of the city but it is open to change, he added.

“Third, we shouldn’t be too respectful for administrative boundaries. Cities grow, develop and outstrip the administrative boundaries. The focus should be on economic geography,” he said. Bringing together two administrative geographies of cities is a challenge which needs to be overcome by the government.

Fourth, interconnectedness should be central to making cities prosper. “Great cities have good transport connectivity with other cities. In the UK we are making progress in transportation. We are not a big country. But transport connections between our cities have not improved. It takes couple of hours to travel by train from Birmingham to Leads and an hour and a half from Birmingham to Manchester. Under the new high speed rail, the government has proposed to minimise travel time by half."

Fifth is livability. “It is not only about economic, employment opportunities. There has to be an environmental balance. Like economic success, cultural success is equally important for a city,” he said.

Education is yet another factor which plays greater role in development of a city. “It is not enough just to attract talent from outside. Cities need to propagate their own talent. And to that educational system is of huge importance. In London, a significant achievement in this area is the transformation in school performance.”

He pointed out that the competition between cities in terms of attracting investment and economic opportunities is seventh. He said, “We are increasingly seeing this phenomenon of global network of cities knowing each other, complementing each other but also competing with each other.”

He said, political leadership, the last, is quite crucial in visualising a city and getting things done.

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