How to design Smart Cities for all Genders?
I recently had the opportunity to be on a panel for ‘Engendering urban planning & urban spaces’, this was a part of a conference for designing sustainable smart cities. It was a good learning experience. Before we got to share our ideas and thoughts we had the opportunity learning about ‘Gift’- one of India’s planned smart cities. The presentation was given by Mr. Rajesh Phadke, the Chief Architect and Planner of #GIFT. This was followed by a presentation by Mr. Zohar Sharon from the Municipality of Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel and by Mr. Shyam Khandekar, the Founder of My Livable city. During the tea break I also had the opportunity to interact with Mr. Karan Grover, a visionary architect.
This diverse morning session really got me thinking about what actually makes a city. Is it the buildings? Is it the people living in these buildings? Or, is it the spaces between these buildings? As I saw the mesmerizing presentation of #GIFT, all that was spoken about was the technology that will be used, which seems to be the solution showcased to all our problems: “Buy a machine and your problems are solved!”
I honestly do not agree with that concept. Technology is an enabler and nothing more, it’s the user who needs to be in focus. So this concept of ‘smart cities’ is absurd if we do not have smart citizens. It is amazing that we have created the most efficient waste management system, but its efficiency won’t matter if it is not being used.
Moving away from the future and looking into the present, just a step back, before these beautiful brave new worlds get created, what about our present cities? What about the people living in it? In New Delhi, we have tried to create our safe spaces, by hiring private security (malls, cinema halls, hospitals, schools, gated housing societies, parks). But the fact that most of the so-called public spaces are guarded by ‘private’ security guards clearly shows our acceptance of the fact that our public spaces will remain unsafe and that the state mechanisms are in no condition to keep us safe. This constant deterioration of our inability to live with others has reached an epidemic level.
Anyone different from us, be it a different gender/religion/region/sexuality, is perceived as a threat. Social spaces are being designed for a very specific demographic. But, sadly for the designers, India is anything but a land of one sort of citizens. This makes the job of designing ever so difficult. So how do we design this tolerant, all-inclusive space?
India’s constitution has recognized women as equal citizens, but have we translated this recognition into practice? I believe the answer is ‘no’. In our primitive work distribution – women took care of family and personal spaces, and men dominated the professional and social spaces. This has traditionally translated into urban designs where they are also created by ‘men’ for men, or for women accompanied by men.
Although many solutions were discussed, in my opinion, we need to start by recognizing the problem – that it exists, and the only way to solve it is by involving citizens at every step of the way. It will make the process longer, but will make livable cities for all, men, women and other genders. The only way to create a tolerant design is to ensure the process is tolerant and open to all.
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