Smart cities initiative should be guided by children’s perspectives

Smart cities should address the issue of complex social structure in order to design equitable cities that provide accessibility to basic necessities for all its citizens, including that of a child

aishwarya

Aishwarya Das Pattnaik | April 29, 2015



A latest report released by property consultant Cushman and Wakefield revealed five factors like power, infrastructure, funds, technology and social capital to be inculcated in the 100 smart cities initiatives. India is embracing this push for smart cities after the NDA government came to power last year. By most estimates the level of urbanisation will reach 50 percent in India by 2039. But even a report as comprehensive as this from Cushman and Wakefield forgets to take into account the complex issue of child friendly infrastructures to be stipulated in order to make the 100 smart cities liveable and more sustainable. Smart cities are the integration of information technology, telecommunications, urban planning, smart infrastructure and operations in an environment geared to maximise the quality of life for a city’s populace.

These smart cities also need to address the issue of complex social structure in order to design equitable cities that provide accessibility to basic necessities for all its citizens, including that of a child. From a social perspective, smart cities must be inclusive, not gated communities for the uber rich, but also for those thriving in abject poverty.

The fulcra of the development of smart cities revolve around the utmost utilisation of ICT in all sectors. But how liveable and sustainable will these urban cities are to children’s needs is a debatable topic and kept under a blanket of anonymity. Development with technology is a very attractive phenomenon. It keeps us involved and busy with our lives, but has always struck with a direct effect on nature, environment and our health.

It is estimated that the population will increase manifold touching 600 million by 2031. With rapid urbanisation taking place in the country; children become most neglected and are major victims due to half-baked urban governance schemes and policies. The inclusion of ‘child friendly’ impact indicators which views the issues faced by children in urban poverty gets often blurred when it comes to its active implementation. Children are primary stakeholders, they require to grow up in healthy and a conducive environment which caters to adequate play spaces, better housing conditions, good sanitation levels and breathable air to name a few. But the parameters to meet safe and healthy living conditions has never been a reality and inevitably imposed hazardous ramifications on the young children of our country.

Independent studies conducted by Bernard van Leer Foundation (BvLF) has supported that young children are the most vulnerable section and need immense nurturing for their development. The study shows that, “A child’s brain doubles in size in the first year of life, and a young child's brain makes 700 new neural connections every second; as children grow older, those neural connections are ‘pruned’ to make brain circuits more efficient” . Hence, it is imperative for young children to grow up in a surrounding that acts as a catalyst for a child to live a healthy and secure city life.

With the population boom in India which has made cities more prone to adapting growing air, water and soil pollution to poor sanitation levels, inefficient water and electric supply in major metropolitans have pushed children to the edge of the cliff.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Even if the prime minister of India was quoted as saying that “special attention is to be given to make cities chid-friendly”, while he reviewed the smart cities initiatives. But major challenges that are put to blindside while negotiating the drive towards the powering concept of smart cities is the discrepancies noticed towards the inclusion of child participation and child-friendly impact indicators in the drafting policy. Many stakeholders’ consultations are conducted to help magnify the maximum need and the impact of smart cities on citizen’s lifestyle at the cost of not taking children’s perceptions into account. How can these smart cities be ‘child friendly’? This is a major task and has been under certain degree of ambiguity. When we define a city to be child friendly especially for the urban poor it means a city must be sensitive to a child’s growing needs to foster its healthy life. It should be a city with adequate playability, secure drinking water facilities, proper housing, high level of sanitation are to be given much thought as it will help children to play, explore, interact and participate in communal life which are critically important for their physical, cognitive, social and emotional development.

In the context to India, the growing slums enforced 12% of the slum population to live in obsolescent houses posing dangerous effects on the cognitive and social skills of a child. According to the ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation (MoHUPA) the total requirement of dwelling units (DUs) in India estimates to be 18.78 million. With such alarming figures being produced it surely shows the inefficiency in our system which has neglected children from these neighbourhoods, while it has stalled the social assessment that must have been viewed anterior.

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